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Fourth Circuit reverses lower court decision; Emanuel AME Church Shooting families can once again sue over background check failure - Nexsen Pruet's Billy Wilkins argued on behalf of the families

August 30, 2019

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision which had dismissed 16 lawsuits brought by the survivors and the families of the victims of the 2015 Emanuel AME Church Shooting. The Emanuel families sued the federal government for failures in the background check system that allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the semi-automatic pistol he used to commit those horrific crimes. In May 2019, William "Billy" Wilkins argued on behalf of the families before the Fourth Circuit. On August 30, 2019, Circuit Chief Judge Gregory published the opinion reversing the district court and agreeing with Wilkins that the lawsuits should be allowed to go forward.

The Post and Courier, Associated Press, and BuzzFeed covered the news and interviewed Wilkins. Click here for the opinion.

Coverage Excerpts

The Post and Courier reported:

Attorneys for the survivors and victims' families asked attorney William "Billy" Wilkins to handle the appeal. The former 4th Circuit chief judge agreed to do so and on Friday called the reversal “very welcomed” by those who lost loved ones and survived the racist killings.

The decision has nationwide implications, Wilkins added, as the first federal appeals court ruling of its kind. While the nation debates gun laws, the three-judge panel ruled that “federal employees charged with very serious responsibilities for background checks are not immune for their inaction,Wilkins said.

He added: “The federal government failed to live up to its responsibility.”

The Associated Press wrote: 

The ruling means the lawsuit can move forward.

William "Billy" Wilkins, a lawyer who represented the families in their appeal, said the ruling signals recognition under the law that the government must live up to its responsibility to conduct thorough background checks for gun buyers.

"We're talking about those who are charged with the important responsibility of properly conducting background checks so that assassins like Roof are not able to obtain the weapon that he used to commit these terrible crimes," he said.


The families are represented by the following attorneys: Gedney M. Howe, III, Alvin J. Hammer, Gedney M. Howe, III, PA, Charleston, South Carolina; Andrew J. Savage, III, Savage Law Firm, Charleston, South Carolina; W. Mullins McLeod, Jr., Jacqueline LaPan Edgerton, McLeod Law Group LLC, Charleston, South Carolina; Carl E Pierce, II, Joseph C. Wilson, IV, Pierce, Sloan, Wilson, Kennedy & Early LLC, Charleston, South Carolina; S. Randall Hood, McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC, Rock Hill, South Carolina; Sen. Gerald Malloy, Malloy Law Firm, Hartsville, South Carolina; J. Stephen Schmutz, Charleston, South Carolina; David F. Aylor, Law Offices of David Aylor, Charleston, South Carolina.


Nexsen Pruet is an AM Law 200 Firm with more than 200 professionals in eight offices providing regional capabilities with international strengths.

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