WOL 123 Immigration Law


Facts: John Hinckley attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. Thomas Delahanty suffered serious injuries.

John Hinckley used the “Saturday Night Special”, a manufactured by R. G. Industries (a subsidiary of Roehm) in his assassination attempt.

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Procedural History. The appellants sued John Hinkley R.G.

Industries, Roehm (the gun manufacturer), Roehm (the manufacturer’s foreign parent) and Roehm individual officers for injuries that Thomas Delahanty sustained during Hinkley’s assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

Issues: Issue 1. Whether distributors and manufacturers of Saturday Night Specials are liable in the District of Columbia for injuries resulting from their criminal usage.

Issue 2: Does the District of Columbia’s tort law provide an avenue for gun distributors to sue gun manufacturers and distributors in respect of injuries arising out of guns’ criminal activities?

Holdings: Issue 1 No.

Saturday Night Specials distributors and manufacturers are not responsible for injuries resulting from criminal use of these guns.

Issue 2 No.

No. 2: The District of Columbia has no established tort law that provides a basis for bringing an action against gun distributors and gun manufacturers for injuries resulting from firearms’ criminal usage.

Reasoning: To support their position, the appellants presented three theories:

Issue 1:

Selling defective products is subject to strict liability

This theory of liability was rejected because appellants didn’t provide any evidence Hinkley had purchased a defective weapon and used it in the assassination attempt.

The appellants claimed that manufacturers had a duty of warning about the dangers from criminal misuse of guns.

The court rejected this argument, noting that the dangerous nature guns have made it obvious that manufacturers are not obligated to warn.

Strict Liability for Abnormally Dangerous Activity

Appellants argued the manufacturer should be held accountable because Saturday Night Special was “inherently and abnormally hazardous with no social value.”

In the District of Columbia, gun manufacturers have never been subjected to the “abnormally risky activity” doctrine.

The Court rejected the application of this doctrine because selling weapons was not an abnormally risky activity “in itself”.

Industries, 304 MD.

Issue 2: Although there is no tort liability for injury resulting in criminal acts by third parties, it is possible to make exceptions when there is a special relationship between the parties.

This includes landlord / tenant and hospital / patient relationships.

The court did not grant this status to gun buyers and gun sellers, because the appellants didn’t argue for any special relationship or suggest any way gun manufacturers could prevent gun purchasers using their guns for criminal activities.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia answered the court’s certified question.

Gun manufacturers cannot be held responsible for third-party injuries caused by buyers of guns under traditional tort theories like negligence or strict liability.

Comment: This case shows how appellate courts might certify issues for other courts (either lower, or in different jurisdictions), to obtain opinions.

In this case, U.S.

Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (federal court appellate court) certified the case to a Washington D.C. Court as it involved a question of law local and not federal.


Case Citation: Stewart, v. Dutra Construction Company

Parties: Willard Stewart Plaintiff Dutra Construction Company, Defendant

Facts: Massachusetts hired Dutra Company as a contractor to extend a turnpike by tunneling.

Dutra had the largest “super scoop” in drench, which was to dig the trench using silt from an ocean bed. Then it would dump into one of its scows.

Super scoop is restricted in its ability to move and can only be controlled by a tugboat through the use of its anchors and cables. (Bilova (2016)

The super scoop moved only 30-50 feet every few hours when digging the Boston Tunnel.

Dutra recruited Willard Stewart as an appellant to check the mechanical systems on the super scoop. On the day of the accident, one of the scows suffered an engine failure and Stewart was fixing wires.

Stewart sustained severe injuries after the scow collided into the super scoop.

Procedural History: Stewart sued the company under Jones act, accusing them de negligence. However, he was a seamen and also under article (59b) Longshore And Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act. LHWCA allows workers to bring legal action against the vessel’s owner as third parties for harm caused by the employer’s negligence.

Dutra also filed suit to argue that Stewart was not a seamen under Jones Act claim. Dutra also disputed the fact that super-scoop was not a vessel according to Jones act.

Dutra received a ruling from the Circuit as a matter law because super scoop’s main work was in construction and not navigation. Also, at the time of the accident, it wasn’t moving.

Issue 1: A seaman is an employee of the vessel according to maritime law.

Issue 2: If a dredge can be considered a vessel in accordance with the LHWCA

Holdings Issue 1: A “seaman”, in maritime law, does not make up a crew member on a vessel.

Issue 2: Yes, a dredge qualifies as a vessel in the LHWCA.


Issue 1: While Jones Act did not define “seaman” in maritime law, it proved that the phrase seaman had a defined meaning under maritime law.

LHWCA stipulated that compensation for seaworkers was to be paid on land and not to crew members of any vessel. However, the court clarified the relationship between a worker and a vessel so that they could be considered as its crew member.

Issue 2: (a). In the revised chapters of LHWCA, a vessel is any watercraft that can serve as an instrument for navigation. Then dredges are vessels as they carry crew and tools over water to perform their functions and are “capable” of navigation in and on the water.

(b) Cope v. Vallette Dry Dock Co. 119 U.S.625 and Evansville & Bowling Green Packet Co. v. CheroCola Bottling Co. 271 U.S 19 pointed out the definitions of vessels because they were not intended for carrying people or goods between places. But for a worker seeking’seaman’ status under Jones Act they must prove that they contributed to the vessel’s performance (Buchstein (2015)).

(c) Court ruled that super scoop is not a vessel as its main purpose is construction and navigation, and was not in motion at the time of the accident.

Buchstein maritime law describes vessel as a watercraft capable of navigation but not intended to be used exclusively for that purpose.

The court agreed under DiGiovanni. It argued super scoop needed to navigate to fulfill its purpose, which was construction. Stewart status as a seaman wasn’t defined because the scoop was still in transit when the accident occurred.


The court was able define the term “vessel” according to LHWCA Article 3 and not as it was defined under maritime law.


Admiralty and maritime law at the Supreme Court.

Salem Press Encyclopedia.

Case Briefs for Legal English Classes.

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