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 director of the New York State Department of Financial Services Maria T. Vullo in connection with her investigation into the association’s relationship with insurance companies and insurance companies. a broker who had partnered with it in a program.
Vullo’s investigation into the NRA’s Carry Guard program led to the New York Department of Financial Services’ May 2018 $7 million settlement with Lockton Cos. LLC, which administered programs providing liability insurance to members of the Fairfax, Virginia-based gun rights advocacy group.
In addition, Chubb Ltd. regulated in May 2018 charges filed by New York regulators of $1.3 million in 2018 related to the program.
Vullo had also held discussions with Lloyd’s of London, which served as the underwriter for at least 11 other NRA-sanctioned programs, according to the ruling by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York National Rifle Association of America v. 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 Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Department of Financial Services, Ms. Vullo’s successor, Linda A. Lacewell, and Ms. Vullo in US District Court in Albany, New York, for alleged violations of the gun rights organization’s First Amendment rights related to the NRA-branded “Carry Guard” insurance program.
In March 2021, the district court dismissed all claims against the defendants except for two First Amendment claims against Ms. Vullo.
It held that the NRA had sufficiently pleaded First Amendment violations, that Mrs. Vullo was not entitled to qualified immunity at the motion-to-dispense stage, and that it was “a question of material fact” whether Vullo had expressly threatened Lloyd’s with DFS -application if it did not distance itself from the NRA.
When a three-judge appeals court overruled the lower court and dismissed the case, it said: “Far from acting irresponsibly, Vullo did his job in good faith.
“She oversaw an investigation into serious violations of New York’s insurance laws and obtained significant relief for the people of New York.
“She used her office to raise political issues of public interest. Even if it were assumed that her actions were illegal, and we do not believe they were, the illegality was not apparent in any way.”
Vullo said in a statement, “For four years, the NRA has moved forward with this baseless case while I have remained steadfast in my position.
“I thank the court for upholding the rule of law, which I tried to do every day as DFS superintendent, including against aggressive opponents who use threats of litigation (and then litigation) as a method to stifle public officials from enforcing the law without fear or favor. “
William A. Brewer III, a lawyer for the NRA, said in a statement that the decision “misrepresents the facts and violates the First Amendment. The NRA is exploring its options, including certification to the Supreme Court.”
He said the opinion “endorses a radical idea: that financial regulators can selectively punish companies for advancing “public policy,” including “social issues” such as gun control. This is a First Amendment exception that should not prevail.”