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Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders v. Beretta, U.S.A. Corp

    Brief Fact Summary. Camden County (Plaintiff), a municipal county, sued Beretta, U.S.A. Corp. (Defendant), a gun company, for public nuisance.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. For the interference to be actionable, Defendant must exert a certain degree of control over the source of the nuisance.

    Facts. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant’s conduct and the marketing and distribution of handguns, created and contributed to the widespread criminal use of handguns in the county. Plaintiff invoked three theories of liability: negligence, negligent entrustment, and public nuisance. The district court rejected all three of Plaintiff’s theories. On appeal, Plaintiff dismissed the two negligence claims and pursued only the public nuisance claim. Plaintiff contended that Defendant knowingly facilitated, participated in, and maintained a handgun distribution system that provided criminals and youth easy access to handguns, and that Defendant knowingly created the public nuisance of criminals and youth with handguns. Plaintiff contended that Defendant released into the market substantially more handguns than they expect to sell to law-abiding purchasers. And that Defendant continued to use certain distribution channels, despite knowing that those channels lead to increased criminal activit
    y.

    Issue. As a matter of law, can a legally manufactured product placed in the stream of commerce create a nuisance?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed.
    * A public nuisance is an unreasonable interference with a right common to the general public. For the interference to be actionable, Defendant must exert a certain degree of control over its source. New Jersey has never allowed a public nuisance claim to proceed against manufacturers for lawful products that are lawfully placed in the stream of commerce. On the contrary, the courts have enforced the boundary between the well-developed body of product liability law and public nuisance law.
    * If public nuisance law were permitted to encompass product liability, nuisance law “would become a monster that would devour in one gulp the entire law of tort.” If defective products are not a public nuisance as a matter of law, then the non-defective, lawful products at issue in this case cannot be a nuisance without straining the law to absurdity.
    * To connect the manufacture of handguns with municipal crime-fighting costs requires a lengthy chain of casual connections. This causal chain is simply too attenuated to attribute sufficient control to the manufacturers to make out a public nuisance claim.

    Discussion. In this case, Plaintiff attempted to phrase their claim as a public nuisance cause of action when in reality it is more of a products liability cause of action. It is important to note that a defendant must have a certain degree of control over the source of the nuisance in order for a plaintiff to maintain their claim for public nuisance. The court separated a cause of action for nuisance from that of negligence and strict products liab



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