Court Allows Ackerman Case to Go Forward Against NRA
In a major decision in the litigation between the NRA and its former vendor Ackerman McQueen, federal judge Allen Joe Fish issued a 55 page ruling allowing the majority of Ackerman’s legal claims against the NRA to proceed. A trial in the case is currently scheduled for the Fall of 2021.
The court allowed a fraud case to proceed against the NRA based on Ackerman’s allegations that the NRA created “fake audits” to support a pre-planned litigation the NRA wished to bring against Ackerman (p.46). Here, Ackerman has put forth evidence that the NRA suggested – and Ackerman accepted – a third party audit with a firm called Forensic Risk Advisors (FRA) and that Ackerman agreed to the audit “believing the audit company to be independent from [Bill] Brewer and [Josh] Powell.” Mr. Brewer is the NRA’s primary outside attorney. However, “as it turned out, FRA employed Susan Dillon, who had joined FRA at the end of 2018 after working as the Director of Consulting at [Brewer’s Firm] for over 17 years.” The court will permit Ackerman’s claim that it was defrauded by the NRA into thinking the audit would be truly independent.
The court’s most lengthy analysis relates to Ackerman’s defamation claim against the NRA (p.18-38). Ackerman contends that Wayne’s LaPierre’s April 25, 2019 letter to the NRA Board constitutes a defamatory statement because it accuses Ackerman of “extortion” and contains a variety of false statements. Recall, this letter was sent to the Board during the power struggle surrounding the NRA’s 2019 Annual Convention, where NRA Board President Oliver North challenged Wayne LaPierre and others in NRA management about their spending. Among other accusations, LaPierre told the Board that he had been told that he must step down, otherwise damaging information about him would be released.
The court found that LaPierre’s letter “falsely accuses Col. North of issuing a ‘threat’ to LaPierre on behalf of Ackerman” (p.30) and that “even if certain individual statements in the April 25 letter are true, they may be juxtaposed in such a way to create a defamatory gist.” (p.29-30). As such, the defamation claim against the NRA will proceed to trial.
The court also allowed a claim for civil conspiracy against the NRA to proceed, under the theory that LaPierre, Brewer and Josh Powell “combined to conspire” against Ackerman and that the “objects of the conspiracy were to defame [Ackerman], tortiously interfere with its contracts, and defraud it.” (p.52). Ackerman may also seek, at trial, a declaratory judgement that the NRA has waived certain rights under the confidentiality provisions of their contract. (p.54)
The NRA did not challenge, and thus the decision did not consider, Ackerman’s breach of contract claim against the NRA. As such, the case against the NRA will proceed with the following claims against the NRA: breach of contract, fraud, civil conspiracy, and defamation.
Judge Fish did dismiss two claims Ackerman attempted to assert: tortious interference with contract and business disparagement. At this time, the court is currently considering a summary judgment motion from Ackerman that could further narrow the case before trial.