The residents of a home from which a Cheyenne teenager stole a handgun used to kill a man in 2014 had no way to know the gun would be stolen or used in a murder and are not liable for damages, Wyoming’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Justices upheld a lower court’s ruling dismissing a lawsuit against the mother of Phillip Sam and her boyfriend, agreeing they could not know that Sam posed a threat to Tyler Burns, 19.
Sam was convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Burns in October 2014 in Cheyenne.
According to the ruling, Sam stole the .40-caliber handgun used in Burns’ death from the home his mother Dora shared with Roger Davis. The handgun, owned by Davis, was stored in the home’s master bedroom closet in an unlocked gun case, according to the ruling.
Sam was living with his father at the time and stole the gun when he went to his mother’s home to pick up a work uniform, the ruling said.
According to the ruling, Sam fired into a crowd of people, hitting Burns, and then shot Burns twice more.
Burns’ parents sued Dora Sam and Davis in state district court, saying Sam’s background — including citations for fighting and spitting on another student and problems at school — should have prompted them to do more to keep the handgun out of Sam’s possession.
The district court awarded a summary judgment in favor of Dora Sam and Davis, agreeing with their arguments that they “owed no duty of care to Mr. Burns for the secure storage of the firearm.”
Justices unanimously agreed with the district court’s ruling, finding that the two would only be required to take action if they could reasonably have expected Phillip Sam to steal and use the handgun.
The opinion, written by Justice Kari Gray, said there was no reason for Sam’s mother and Davis to expect such developments.
“Mr. Sam was undeniably a troubled teen,” the opinion said. “He had citations for engaging in fist fights and, most recently, for spitting on another student. However, he had never before taken or tried to take a firearm from his mother’s home or anywhere else. There was no evidence that Mr. Sam had ever threatened to use a gun to hurt someone, or even talked about using a gun to hurt someone.
“Ms. Sam and Mr. Davis could not have foreseen the criminal acts committed by Mr. Sam — Mr. Sam’s theft of the firearm, his use of the weapon to fire on a group of people, and finally, his shooting at Mr. Burns,” the ruling said.