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A sufficient pleading in a public nuisance cause of action will allege a right common to the general public, the transgression of that right by the defendant, and resulting injury. To be more precise, facts must be alleged in support of four distinct elements of a public nuisance claim: the existence of a public right, a substantial and unreasonable interference with that right by the defendant, proximate cause, and injury.
The City of Chicago and Cook County (collectively, “plaintiffs”), in an effort to stem the rising tide of gun violence and to recoup some of the expenses that flow from gun crimes, have instituted a public nuisance claim against 18 manufacturers, 4 distributors, and 11 dealers of handguns that have been illegally possessed and used in the city. The plaintiffs alleged that the companies' conduct in designing, manufacturing, distributing, and selling certain handguns was done with the knowledge that a significant number of the guns would ultimately find their way into an illegal secondary gun market and then into hands of persons who could not legally possess those guns within the city. The trial court granted the companies' motion to dismiss for failure to state a public nuisance claim. The Illinois appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment. The companies appealed.
Did the plaintiffs sufficiently allege a claim for public nuisance against the defendant companies?
The supreme court concluded that the city and county did not state a claim for public nuisance as they did not show that a public right had been infringed. Even assuming that a public right had been infringed, their assertions of negligent conduct were not supported by any recognized duty on the part of the manufacturers and distributors and their allegations of intentional conduct were insufficient for public nuisance liability as a matter of law. In addition, proximate cause could not be established as to the dealers because the claimed harm was the aggregate result of numerous unforeseeable intervening criminal acts by third parties not under the companies' control. Finally, the supreme court held that the city's and county's action for damages was barred by the Moorman doctrine and the municipal cost recovery rule.