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Johnson v. Wal-Mart Stores

November 10, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge


This matter is now before the Court on Defendant, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.'s ("Wal-Mart"), Motion to Dismiss. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss [#7] is GRANTED.


The Complaint alleges that on January 22, 2008, Candace Johnson ("Johnson") entered the Wal-Mart store on Allen Road in Peoria, Illinois, and went to the sporting goods department to purchase firearm ammunition. She did not have an Illinois Firearm Owners Identification card [hereinafter "FOID card"] because she had been a mental illness patient within the previous five years.

Christy Blake ("Blake"), a clerk in the sporting goods department, sold Johnson ammunition without requesting her to produce a FOID card. Blake had never been provided with any training on the proper procedures for selling firearm ammunition.

Following her purchase, Johnson returned to her residence and shot herself in the chest with the firearm ammunition that she had just purchased from the Wal-Mart store. At approximately 3:30 p.m., Johnson's husband came home to his residence after a day of work and found her lying in a pool of blood on a bathroom floor. He determined that his wife was still alive and called 911. Johnson was taken by ambulance to OSF St. Francis Hospital, where she died at 6:10 a.m. on January 23, 2008.

On May 30, 2008, Mark Johnson, individually and as the Administrator of the Estate of Candace Johnson, filed this Complaint alleging: (1) that Wal-Mart was negligent in selling firearm ammunition to Johnson in violation of its duties under the Firearm Owners Identification Card Act (the "Act"), 430 ILCS 65/3; (2) that Wal-Mart caused the wrongful death of Johnson; (3) negligent infliction of emotional distress; and (4) reckless infliction of emotional distress. Wal-Mart has now moved to dismiss the Complaint on various grounds, each of which will be addressed in turn. The motion is fully briefed, and this Order follows.


Courts have traditionally held that a complaint should not be dismissed unless it appears from the pleadings that the plaintiff could prove no set of facts in support of her claim which would entitle her to relief. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957); Gould v. Artisoft, Inc., 1 F.3d 544, 548 (7th Cir. 1993). Rather, a complaint should be construed broadly and liberally in conformity with the mandate in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(f). More recently, the Supreme Court has phrased this standard as requiring a showing sufficient "to raise a right to relief beyond a speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007).

For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff; its well-pleaded factual allegations are taken as true, and all reasonably-drawn inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69 (1984); Lanigan v. Village of East Hazel Crest, 110 F.3d 467 (7th Cir. 1997); M.C.M. Partners, Inc. V. Andrews-Bartlett & Assoc., Inc., 62 F.3d 967, 969 (7th Cir. 1995); Early v. Bankers Life & Cas. Co., 959 F.2d 75 (7th Cir. 1992).


I. Negligence and Wrongful Death Claims

Wal-Mart first argues that Plaintiff has failed to state a cause of action for negligence or wrongful death because Illinois does not permit recovery for suicide following a tortious act, as suicide is an independent intervening act that the tortfeasor cannot be expected to foresee. Specifically, Wal-Mart contends that under Illinois law, suicide is an intervening and independent cause of death which breaks the chain of causation and precludes its liability in this case (hereinafter referred to as the "suicide rule"). Jarvis v. Stone, 517 F.Supp. 1173 (N.D.Ill. 1981); Crumpton v. Walgreen Co., 375 Ill.App.3d 73, 79 (1st Dist. 2007); Chalhoub v. Dixon, 338 Ill. App.3d 535, 539-40 (1st Dist. 2003); Cleveland v. Rotman, 297 F.3d 569, 572 (7th Cir. 2002); Kleen v. Homak, 321 Ill.App.3d 639, 642 (1st Dist. 2001).

Plaintiff argues that there is no precedent supporting the application of the suicide rule where the tort committed is the violation of a public safety statute enacted to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Focusing on the legislative history of an amendment to the Act that did not become effective until after Johnson's suicide, Plaintiff maintains that the legislation was intended to protect mentally defective persons from posing a danger to themselves and others. Assuming that the amendment and its legislative history are applicable in this case, Plaintiff cites Kalata v. Anheuser-Busch Cos., Inc., 144 Ill.2d 425, 435 (Ill. 1991), for the proposition that the violation of a public safety statute is prima facie evidence of negligence. However, Plaintiff has not provided any basis for finding that the recent amendments to the statute are applicable or that the Act contains so-called "rights creating language" establishing a class for whose benefit the legislation was being enacted other than the interest in protecting the "health, safety and welfare of the public" expressly noted in the statute. Moreover, in order to recover, the injured party must demonstrate that the violation of the public safety statute proximately caused the injury and that the statute was intended to protect a class ...

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