The federal appeals court in New York reversed a lower court and dismissed two remaining First Amendment charges brought by the National Rifle Association against former New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Maria T. Vullo in connection with her investigation of the association’s relationship with insurers and returned a broker who had worked with him on a program.
Ms Vullo’s investigation into the NRA’s Carry Guard program led to a $7 million settlement by the New York Treasury Department with Lockton Cos in May 2018. LLC, which administered programs that provided liability insurance to members of Fairfax, Virginia-based gun rights advocacy groups.
In addition, Chubb Ltd. in May 2018 also indictments filed by New York regulators for $1.3 million in 2018 related to the program.
Ms Vullo had also held talks with Lloyd’s of London which, following the US Court of Appeals ruling, acted as an underwriter in at least 11 other NRA-backed schemes New York National Rifle Association of America vs. Maria T. Vullo.
Lloyd’s announced its decision to end its insurance-related relationship with the NRA in May 2018.
Two days later, the NRA sued then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Department of Financial Services, Ms. Vullo’s successor, Linda A. Lacewell, and Ms. Vullo in U.S. District Court in Albany, New York, for alleged misappropriation and violation of First Gun rights organization amendment rights related to NRA’s Carry Guard brand insurance program.
In March 2021, the district court dismissed all claims against the defendants except for two First Amendment claims against Ms. Vullo.
It found that the NRA had made sufficient allegations of First Amendment violations, that Ms Vullo was not entitled to qualified immunity at the dismissal motion stage and that there was “a matter of material fact” as to whether Ms Vullo expressly did so had threatened Lloyd’s with DFS enforcement if it did not distance itself from the NRA.
In overturning the lower court and dismissing the case, a three-person appeals court said: “Far from acting irresponsibly, Vullo acted in good faith.
“She oversaw an investigation into gross violations of the New York Insurance Act and obtained significant relief for New York residents.
“She used her office to address political issues that affected the public. Even assuming their actions were unlawful, which we do not believe was the case, the unlawfulness was by no means obvious.”
Ms Vullo said in a statement: “For four years the NRA has continued this baseless case while I have remained steadfast in my position.
“I thank the court for upholding the rule of law, as I have tried to do every day as DFS Superintendent, even against aggressive opponents who use trial threats (and then litigation) as a method to prevent officials from breaking the law without.” to enforce fear or favor.’”
William A. Brewer III, attorney for the NRA, said in a statement the decision “misstates the facts and violates the First Amendment.” The NRA is exploring its options, including certiorari before the Supreme Court.”
He said the statement “advocates a radical idea: that financial regulators can selectively punish companies to promote ‘public order’, including ‘social concerns’ such as gun control. This is a deviation from the First Amendment that should not apply.”