The National Rifle Association filed a motion in federal court Thursday for expedited discovery in its lawsuit against Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a state agency.
The association is aiming to speed up the discovery process to prepare for a preliminary injunction against Cuomo and state Department of Financial Services Superintendent Maria Vullo.
The NRA has claimed that Cuomo and Vullo conspired to coerce financial institutions to sever business ties with the association, causing it to suffer financial losses. The injunction would seek to halt any efforts by Cuomo or DFS to penalize other companies for partnering with the NRA.
Attorneys for the NRA said they want to get a better sense of how far state officials went in urging companies to stop doing business with the gun lobby group.
“The preliminary injunction we would seek would prevent the superintendent and her people at the Department of Financial Services form continuing to pursue the intent of that directive,” said William A. Brewer III, the lead attorney for the NRA in the case from Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors in Dallas. “The directive is clear. They’re seeking for financial institutions to cease doing business with the NRA.”
In a lawsuit filed last month, the NRA claimed its free-speech rights were violated when Cuomo and Vullo asked businesses to reconsider their partnerships with the NRA, the country’s leading advocacy group for gun rights. The NRA said in the complaint that the state has stifled its ability to advocate for gun owners.
Cuomo has publicly encouraged businesses in New York state to end any relationship they have with the NRA after 17 people were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida this year. The NRA lobbied against federal gun restrictions after the shooting.
Vullo took Cuomo’s request a step further by issuing a letter in April encouraging state-regulated financial institutions to re-evaluate their relationship with the group.
“The department encourages its chartered and licensed financial institutions to continue evaluating and managing their risks, including reputational risks, that may arise from their dealings with the NRA or similar gun promotion organizations,” Vullo said in the letter.
That culminated in a handful of businesses entering into agreements with the state agency to cease their ties with the NRA, the motion claims.
Lockton Companies entered into an agreement with DFS in May that imposed a $7 million penalty for involvement in NRA-affiliated insurance programs in New York state. Lockton previously offered an insurance program with the NRA in New York state called “Carry Guard,” which provides coverage for criminal defense costs and civil protections incurred after a gun is used in self-defense. The insurance covers things like bail money, psychological counseling, and attorney costs.
The NRA has since also filed a lawsuit against Lockton, saying the company breached its contract with the association when it entered into the agreement with DFS.
Chubb Group Holdings Inc. and its subsidiary, Illinois Union Insurance Co., entered into a similar agreement with the state agency less than a week later that imposed a $1.3 million fine for involvement in NRA-affiliated programs. Unlike the agreement with Lockton, the two companies agreed not to participate with the NRA in general, regardless of location.
The NRA said in its motion Thursday that it plans to subpoena companies that ended their relationship with the NRA after the April letter from Vullo. It also wants depositions from Vullo and three other representatives from her agency.
Documents sought in Thursday’s motion are narrow in scope. Attorneys for the NRA are asking for any public or private communications between state officials and financial institutions about their relationship with the association. That would include any documents that show the state urged those companies to cut ties with the NRA.
They are also seeking any information or documents that involve agreements DFS has already made with businesses, like Lockton.
They said that information, along with their own reports, will support their case for a preliminary injunction against Cuomo and Vullo.
“It’s clear that we’re seeing some effects, sadly, and we need to get some discovery—not much, we think it’s targeted,” Brewer said. “We need to get some discovery so we can get into a preliminary injunction hearing and hopefully seek some imminent relief.”
The NRA said it has sought new companies to partner with for insurance, but those providers have demanded higher premiums or offered lower policy limits than their previous partners.
“It’s not just the banks we are doing business with,” Brewer said. “It’s the banks that won’t take our calls or the financial institutions, the insurance companies that are influenced by not just these directives but the outreach that Superintendent Vullo proudly proclaims they are pursuing.”
The Cuomo administration has not backed off of its rhetoric against the NRA since the association filed its lawsuit. Cuomo criticized the lawsuit in a tweet the day after it was filed, saying that, “If the NRA is suing you, you know you’re doing something right.” He’s made similar statements at public appearances since then.
DFS has not announced any new agreements with companies to cut ties with the NRA since the lawsuit was filed.
The Cuomo administration did not immediately respond to the motion. The press office for State Attorney General Barbara Underwood did not return a request for comment.