Luke v. A Pawn Shop
Joshua Higbee was one of three people killed when Cedric Ford opened fire on February 25, 2016, at the Excel Industries factory in Hesston, Kansas. Ford’s shooting spree began in Newton, Kansas, and ended at Excel Industries, where his colleague, Joshua was working that day. Another 14 people were injured that day, and a fourth victim later died. Higbee is survived by his wife, Subrina Luke, and his 7-year-old son.
A convicted felon, Ford was prohibited from purchasing and possessing firearms. Yet he was armed with a Zastava Serbia AK-47 semi-automatic rifle and a Glock Model 22 .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun. He obtained the two guns through straw purchases conducted at A Pawn Shop in Newton, Kansas. The shop transferred the guns to Ford’s ex-girlfriend, Sarah Jo Hopkins, even though she paid the gun dealer with a credit card in Ford’s name.
One indicator of a straw sale is when someone other than the gun buyer pays for the gun. If this gun dealer had paid attention to obvious signs of a straw purchase, Higbee’s young son would have a father, and his wife would have a husband.
In February 2018, Brady filed a complaint against A Pawn Shop on behalf of Higbee’s estate, his wife, and his son. The complaint alleges that A Pawn Shop illegally and negligently allowed Ford's ex-girlfriend, Sarah Jo Hopkins, to obtain the guns for him, through pawn redemptions. The dealer knew — or should have known — that Hopkins was making a straw purchase. A team of attorneys led by David Morantz and Lynn Johnson of Shamberg, Johnson, & Bergman in Overland Park, Kansas, and Kansas City, MO, provided co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
In April 2018, Brady attorneys and Morantz announced a global $2 million dollar settlement with A Pawn Shop. The settlement resolves the three lawsuits pending in the District Court of Harvey County, Kansas, filed by victims of the shooting and their families against the Kansas gun dealer. As a result of the lawsuits, A Pawn Shop has stopped selling firearms and ceased all operations.
The $2 million settlement with A Pawn Shop built upon legal precedent won by Brady’s earlier legal work in Kansas. In the 2013 case Shirley v. Glass, Brady argued and won a landmark unanimous decision in the Kansas Supreme Court holding that gun dealers can be liable for injuries caused by straw transactions and that gun dealers must use “the highest standard of care” to avoid selling guns to dangerous people. Brady’s work in Shirley v. Glass paved the way for Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman, Chtd to achieve a favorable legal ruling and later resolution in Corporon v. Wal-Mart Stores East, another straw purchase case stemming from the 2014 Jewish Community Center shootings in Overland Park, KS.
The settlement in Luke v. A Pawn Shop is a victory for public safety and a defeat for the illicit gun market, and those who profit from it. Brady is pleased that we were able to secure some justice for Higbee’s family and send a message to irresponsible gun dealers — if they put profits over people, they will be forced to pay for it.