Judge William Campbell, Jr. of the US District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee ruled yesterday that David Dell’Aquila’s class action suit against the NRA has standing to proceed. The NRA, the NRA Foundation, and Wayne LaPierre had argued that the lawsuit failed to meeting the requirements of Rule 9b of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Rule 9(b) states: In alleging fraud or mistake, a party must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake. Malice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of a person’s mind may be alleged generally.
In his ruling yesterday, Judge Campbell found that this standard had not been met with regard to both the NRA Foundation and Wayne LaPierre. However, it had been met with regard to the NRA itself.
David Dell’Aquila and the other plaintiffs had alleged that monies that they had donated to advance the mission of the NRA had been used for, among other things, to buy suits for Wayne LaPierre, to pay for private travel for LaPierre and his family, to pay for a luxury apartment for intern Megan Allen, and to pay for makeup and hairstyling for Susan LaPierre.
Judge Campbell wrote, with regard to the NRA,
The NRA next argues that Plaintiffs did not allege “in more than a passing conclusory assertion that the NRA knew of and intended the falsity of its statements.” (Id. at 12). The NRA argues that because the statements regarding the use of funds relate to the promise of some future action, Plaintiffs must allege that the NRA had no present intent to carry out the promise. The NRA further argues that Plaintiffs cannot plead the element of intent for “any future expenditures that were not in contemplation at the time of the Solicitation.” In other words, the NRA argues that if, at the time of the solicitation, it did not specifically plan to spend money on, for example personal expenses of Wayne LaPierre, there can be no plausible allegation of intent with regard to that expenditure.
The Court declines to read the intent requirement so narrowly. First, Plaintiffs allege that the funds were spent on things that were not in furtherance of the mission of the NRA. It was not necessary that the NRA know at the time what the extraneous expenditures would be, only that they knew that money would be spent outside the mission.Moreover, Rule 9(b) allows the element of intent to be alleged generally. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b). Given the extent of the alleged misspent funds – in both duration and volume – the Court finds Plaintiffs’ allegation that the NRA knew donated funds would not be used to advance the mission of the NRA sufficiently plausible to state a claim.
He goes on to say:
At this juncture in the litigation, making all inferences in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, the Court finds Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged a claim for fraud against the NRA. Although the Court will not engage in a statement by statement review of the allegations, it bears noting that many of the statements cited by Plaintiffs do not make any representations regarding the use of donor funds. However, because some of them do, and Plaintiffs have alleged the remaining elements of the claim, the Court will deny the NRA’s motion to dismiss the claim for fraud.
Judge Campbell goes on to dismiss the RICO claims against the NRA noting that it cannot be both an enterprise and a person for purposes of the RICO statute. He also dismissed the RICO claims against the NRA Foundation and LaPierre as the plaintiffs didn’t adequately argue claims of fraud against them.
The bottom line is that the Foundation and LaPierre are both off the hook and the lawsuit against the NRA itself has enough standing to proceed. In retrospect, I’m sure the NRA will eventually find that it would have been cheaper to give the plaintiffs their money back with a non-disclosure settlement than to keep using the services of William Brewer. Indeed, Brewer’s fees were part of the argument that donor money had been misused.
One last note – to anyone thinking that this is a Democrat-appointed judge coming down on the NRA, think again. Judge Campbell was appointed by President Trump in 2018.