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Johnson v. Wal-Mart Stores

December 1, 2009

MARK D. JOHNSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF CANDACE M. JOHNSON, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WAL-MART STORES, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 08-1126-Michael M. Mihm, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaum, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED NOVEMBER 4, 2009

Before CUDAHY, FLAUM, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

Plaintiff-appellant Mark Johnson sued defendant-appellee Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. ("WalMart") on a negligence theory for selling bullets to his wife, Candace Johnson, without asking her to present the identification card required by Illinois law. The woman did not have said card at the time of purchase. She subsequently used the bullets to commit suicide. At the district court, Wal-Mart prevailed on a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion by arguing that the Illinois "suicide rule" broke the causal chain between a negligent act and the resultant harm. Johnson now appeals the district court's grant of the motion to dismiss.

For the following reasons, we affirm the district court's judgment.

I. Background

This is a diversity negligence case governed by Illinois law. Appellant Mark Johnson is the Administrator of the Estate of Candace M. Johnson, his deceased wife. On January 22, 2008, Candace Johnson walked into a Wal-Mart store in Peoria and purchased bullets without possessing an Illinois Firearm Owner's Identification ("FOID") Card. Plaintiff-appellant alleges that Christy S. Blake, a sales clerk in the sporting goods department of the store, did not require Candace to present a FOID Card. Under the Firearm Owners Identification Card Act ("FOIC Act"), [N]o person may knowingly transfer, or cause to be transferred, any firearm, firearm ammunition, stun gun, or taser to any person within this State unless the transferee with whom he deals displays a currently valid Firearm Owner's Identification Card which has previously been issued in his name by the Department of State Police under the provisions of this Act.

430 ILCS 65/3(a). Plaintiff-appellant further alleges that Candace Johnson would have been unable to get such a card because she "had been a mental patient" within five years of the incident. Appellant does not allege that Johnson was mentally ill when she purchased the bullets. The statute requires an applicant for a FOID card to submit evidence that, among other things, "[h]e or she has not been a patient in a mental institution within the past 5 years and he or she has not been adjudicated as a mental defective...." 430 ILCS 65/4(a)(2)(iv).

When Candace got home from Wal-Mart, she loaded the bullets into a revolver and shot herself in the chest. Her husband returned from work a few hours later and discovered her bleeding on the floor, still alive. He called the ambulance, which transported Candace to a hospital. Candace died there the next morning.

On May 30, 2008, Johnson filed his complaint against Wal-Mart in the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. The complaint set forth four theories of liability: negligence, wrongful death, and two emotional distress claims. Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. With respect to the two theories of liability at issue in this appeal, Wal-Mart argued that suicide is an independent intervening event that prevents plaintiff from showing proximate cause, a necessary element for recovery in a negligence action. The district court agreed. In an order dated November 10, 2008, the court dismissed all claims but granted Johnson leave to amend his complaint to allege that the suicide was a foreseeable consequence of the statutory violation.

Plaintiff instead moved for a final order, from which he now appeals the dismissal of the negligence and wrongful death claims. Johnson argues that we should reverse the district court's judgment because "the suicide rule should not prevail over the prima facie evidence rule." Johnson abandons his emotional distress claims.

II. Discussion

We review a district court's decision to dismiss a case under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) de novo. Michalowicz v. Village of Bedford Park, 528 F.3d 530, 534 (7th Cir. 2008). In doing so, we accept the allegations in plaintiff's complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nevada, N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must make factual allegations that "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

Johnson alleges that Wal-Mart was negligent in training Christy Blake, the sporting goods department sales clerk who sold bullets to Candace, in the appropriate procedure for dealing in firearms or ammunition pursuant to the FOIC Act. Under Johnson's theory, this deficient training and the prohibited transaction that followed together caused his wife's death. To state a negligence claim under Illinois law, "the plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed a duty of ...


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