A company that provides plans for 3-D printed firearms can sue New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in a Texas court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled today.
Grewal moved to block the Austin-based Defense Distributed from selling computer files that allowed consumers to create fully operational firearms using a 3-D printer by sending the company a cease-and-desist letter that threatened legal action if they continued to market the product.
The company mounted a legal challenge against Grewal in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas alleging that New Jersey’s top law enforcement official violated their First and Second Amendment rights by threatening them with criminal sanctions at a 2018 press conference and asking third-party internet service providers in California to terminate their contracts with Defense Distributed. New Jersey had also initiated a civil lawsuit against the company in New Jersey.
The Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling that backed up Grewal’s claim that he wasn’t subject to jurisdiction of Texas courts.
“Grewal’s conduct beyond sending the cease-and-desist letter confirms his intent to crush Defense Distributed’s operations and not simply limit the dissemination of digital files in New Jersey,” the Fifth Circuit said. “Grewal’s enforcement actions are selective. He has not targeted the many similarly-situated persons who publish Defense Distributed’s files on the internet.”
The court found that Grewal’s decision to take its fight against the company outside New Jersey’s borders opened the door to facing a lawsuit in Texas.
“Perhaps nowhere is this better illustrated than in Grewal’s efforts to enjoin the national distribution of Defense Distributed’s files by suing in Washington, far from his or the plaintiffs’ home state,” the court opinion stated. “Grewal has also threatened Defense Distributed’s founder, Cody Wilson, by name, promising to “come after” ‘anyone who is contemplating making a printable gun’ and ‘the next ghost gun company.’ Together, these actions confirm Grewal’s intent to force Defense Distributed to close shop.”
The court found that “Grewal’s contacts with Texas, moreover, are more than a ‘mere fortuity,’ as the district court found.
“Grewal intentionally mailed the cease-and-desist letter into Texas,” the opinion said. “That contact alone gave rise to distinct tort causes of action. Grewal knew that the cease-and-desist letter would ‘have a potentially devastating impact’ on the plaintiffs—and, by extension, those who wished to benefit from the plaintiffs’ activities, including Texas residents.”
When the U.S. District Court ruled for Grewal in 2009, the attorney general took to Twitter to claim victory.
“After we stopped (Defense Distributed) from posting 3D printable gun code, it sued us—for months—in Texas. DD even tried to prevent NJ’s new law banning printable gun code from taking effect,” he said. “Yesterday, we won—the Texas judge dismissed the suit & closed the case. Another victory for safety.”
The attorney general’s office had no comment on the Fifth Circuit ruling.
This story was updated at 12:37 PM on August 20.grewal fifth circuit