The U.S. Court of Appeals yesterday upheld the dismissal of a jury's $2 million damage award against the National Rifle Association for negligence in the death of a man shot with a gun stolen from an NRA office five years ago.
The victim, Orlando Gonzalez-Angel, 27, an animal caretaker at the National Institutes of Health, was shot to death during a robbery at 14th and T streets NW.
Testimony at the NRA trial two years ago showed the gun had been stolen earlier during a break-in at an NRA employe's office here.
The family of Gonzalez-Angel sued the 2-million-member organization, contending the NRA was negligent when it failed to take security measures to prevent burglaries at its offices.
Lawyers for the NRA argued that the organization could not have anticipated the criminal acts that led to Gonzalez-Angel's death.
A U.S. District Court jury awarded the family $2 million in damages, four times the amount being sought by lawyers for the relatives, but District Judge Oliver Gasch later threw out the verdict.
He said there was no evidence that the NRA was negligent.
A three-judge appellate panel yesterday agreed, quoting from Gasch's opinion that "to foresee the convergence of all these events, especially the murder, would constitute an act of prophecy, one based not on reasonable likelihood, but on sheer conjecture."
A lawyer for the NRA, Richard Gardner, called the decision "wonderful news," but said he had not seen the opinion and could not comment further.
The decision was written by Circuit Judge Antonin Scalia and joined in by Circuit Judges Robert H. Bork and George E. MacKinnon.
The weapon, a .22 pistol, was owned by NRA employe Robert W. Lowe, who used the gun for recreational shooting at a gallery in the NRA building.
Lowe was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
When Lowe left work on Nov. 23, 1979, he locked the gun in a closet and left the key in his desk. That evening, according to the decision, four burglars stole the gun and ammunition.
Four days later, one of the original burglars and an accomplice held up Gonzalez-Angel and fatally shot him after he resisted.
Under District law, the opinion said, the issues were whether the NRA owed a duty to Gonzalez-Angel to conform to a certain standard of care in preventing burglaries, whether the NRA had breached that duty and whether its alleged negligence was the "proximate cause" of the murder.
Citing another, similar D.C. case in which "proximate cause" was ruled out, the appeals court said, "The chain of events in this case is equally, if not more, extraordinary and unforeseeable."