Ferreira v. City of Binghamton, 2022-01953

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtSINGAS, J.
Citation2022 NY Slip Op 63763 (U)
PartiesJesus Ferreira, Appellant, v. City of Binghamton et al., Respondents.
Docket Number2022-01953
Decision Date22 March 2022

2022 NY Slip Op 63763(U)

Jesus Ferreira, Appellant,

City of Binghamton et al., Respondents.

No. 2022-01953

New York Court of Appeals

March 22, 2022

Robert Genis, for appellant.

Brian S. Sokoloff, for respondents.


New York Civil Liberties Union; New York State Academy of Trial Lawyers; New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials et al.; New York City Bar Association; New York County Lawyers Association et al.; City of New York; New York State Trial Lawyers Association, amici curiae.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has inquired whether New York's" 'special duty' requirement" applies "to claims of injury inflicted through municipal negligence" or if it applies only to claims premised upon a municipality's negligent "failure to protect the plaintiff from an injury inflicted other than by a municipal employee" (975 F.3d 255, 291 [2d Cir 2020]). Consistent with our precedent and the purpose of the special duty rule, we reiterate that plaintiffs must establish that a municipality owed them a special duty when they assert a negligence claim based on actions taken by a municipality acting in a governmental capacity. We further clarify that plaintiffs may establish a special duty when a municipality, acting through its police force, plans and executes a no-knock search warrant at a person's home, and that such a duty runs to the individuals within the targeted premises at the time the warrant is executed.


In August 2011, a police officer employed by defendant Binghamton Police Department obtained information that Michael Pride, an alleged armed and dangerous felony suspect, resided at a certain apartment in that city. On August 24, 2011, the police obtained a no-knock search warrant for the residence [1]. That night, police officers surveilled the residence for approximately one hour, confirming Pride's connection with the apartment identified in the warrant. The officers observed Pride and another man in front of the residence engage in activity consistent with a drug transaction. Later, they saw Pride leave the residence. The police never saw Pride return to the apartment, and they did not conduct additional surveillance.

Because the police believed that Pride was dangerous, a heavily-armed SWAT team conducted a dynamic entry into the residence early the next morning to execute the search warrant. A dynamic entry uses speed and surprise to gain an advantage before occupants have time to access weapons, destroy evidence, or resist the police. The team had difficulty entering and had to strike the door repeatedly before it opened. After breaching the door, defendant Police Officer Kevin Miller led the SWAT team into the apartment. Upon entry, Miller encountered plaintiff, who had slept on the living room couch near the front door. Plaintiff and Miller gave different accounts of what happened next, but it is undisputed that Miller shot plaintiff, who was unarmed, in the stomach and that plaintiff suffered serious injuries. Miller claimed that plaintiff advanced towards him, and he mistook an Xbox controller in plaintiff's hand for a handgun. Plaintiff maintained that he did not leave the couch, did not have the controller in his hand, and Miller shot him as soon as the door opened.

Plaintiff commenced this action in federal court against, among others, Miller, the police department, and the City of Binghamton (the City). As relevant here, plaintiff asserted a state law negligence claim, contending that the City breached a special duty [2]. At trial, plaintiff alleged that the City was liable under a respondeat superior theory for Miller's negligence in shooting plaintiff and for the police department's negligence in planning the raid.

The jury found that Miller had not acted negligently and rendered a verdict in his favor. However, the jury determined that the City was "liable for negligence with respect to the incident... under a respondeat superior theory" and awarded plaintiff $3 million in damages, with 90% apportioned to the City.

Both plaintiff and the City moved for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, a new trial. Plaintiff contended that the jury's verdict as to Miller's liability and negligence was against the weight of the evidence and should be set aside. The City argued, among other things, that there was no evidence establishing that it owed a special duty to plaintiff and, in any event, its liability was precluded by the governmental function immunity defense.

As relevant here, the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York denied plaintiff's motion and granted the City's motion for judgment as a matter of law. In denying plaintiff's motion, the court determined that a reasonable jury could have concluded that Miller's "mistake and the shooting that resulted" did not violate any applicable standard of care and hinged on a credibility determination best left for the jury (US Dist Ct, ND NY, 3:13 CV 107, Sept. 27, 2017, McAvoy, Sr. J.). Concerning the City's motion, the court concluded that New York law required that plaintiff demonstrate that the City owed him a special duty and no record evidence supported a special duty here. The court noted that, in any event, the governmental function immunity defense would bar plaintiff's claim against the City.

Upon plaintiff's appeal, the Second Circuit upheld the portion of the district court order denying plaintiff's motion, explaining that "the jury could reasonably conclude that Miller was not negligent in believing himself threatened and shooting" plaintiff (975 F.3d at 268). The issue of whether Miller was negligent in shooting plaintiff was therefore resolved in the federal courts and is not before us.

The Second Circuit next addressed the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law to the City. The court first determined that the governmental function immunity defense did not protect the City from liability because plaintiff had "elicited sufficient evidence to support a jury finding that the City, through the actions of its employees in the police department and SWAT unit, violated established police procedures and acceptable police practice" by "failing to conduct adequate pre-raid surveillance of the residence or gather other intelligence" (id. at 272). [3]

The court then turned to plaintiff's argument that "the special duty requirement applies only in cases in which the allegedly negligent government conduct is the failure to protect from or respond adequately to a separately imposed injury, but does not apply where the negligent conduct alleged involves the municipal government's own infliction of injury" (id. at 282). According to the Second Circuit, New York law offered "conflicting guidance" on the issue, making it "impossible to discern" whether plaintiff was required to establish a special duty (id.). The Second Circuit therefore certified a question to this Court:

"Does the 'special duty' requirement-that, to sustain liability in negligence against a municipality, the plaintiff must show that the duty breached is greater than that owed to the public generally-apply to claims of injury inflicted through municipal negligence, or does it apply only when the municipality's negligence lies in its failure to protect the plaintiff from an injury inflicted other than by a municipal employee?" (Id. at 291).

We accepted the question (see 35 N.Y.3d 1105 [2020]).


New York waived its immunity from liability in 1929 when it enacted Court of Claims Act former § 12-a, now § 8 (see Bernardine v City of New York, 294 NY 361, 365 [1945]). The State's immunity waiver applies equally to its municipal subdivisions, including cities (see Valdez v City of New York, 18 N.Y.3d 69, 75 [2011]; Florence v Goldberg, 44 N.Y.2d 189, 195 [1978]). By this waiver, "the State assumed liability for its conduct and consented to have such liability determined in accordance with the same rules of law applicable to individuals and corporations," thereby opening the door to negligence claims against municipal actors (Florence, 44 N.Y.2d at 194-195). Nevertheless, "other recognized limitations still govern the tort liability of municipal officers" (Tango v Tulevech, 61 N.Y.2d 34, 40 [1983]), and governmental defendants "unquestionably continue to enjoy... a significant measure of immunity" (Haddock v City of New York, 75 N.Y.2d 478, 484 [1990]; see Connolly v Long Is. Power Auth., 30 N.Y.3d 719, 726-727 [2018]).

In any common-law negligence case brought pursuant to New York law, "a plaintiff must demonstrate (1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) a breach thereof, and (3) injury proximately resulting therefrom" (Solomon v City of New York, 66 N.Y.2d 1026, 1027 [1985]). Thus, a threshold issue that the court must resolve "is whether the defendant owed a legally recognized duty to the plaintiff" (Gilson v Metropolitan Opera, 5 N.Y.3d 574, 576 [2005]; see Lauer v City of New York, 95 N.Y.2d 95, 100 [2000]). A negligence claim against a municipality implicates a "complex area of the law" that has caused some "confusion concerning the relationship between the special duty rule (establishing a tort duty of care) and the governmental function immunity defense (affording a full defense for discretionary acts, even when all elements of the negligence claim have been established)" (Valdez, 18 N.Y.3d at 77-78). This Court has therefore adhered to a conceptual framework to analyze the special duty and governmental function immunity doctrines when both issues are presented in a given case.

As we have explained previously, a court must first decide "whether the municipal entity was engaged in a proprietary function or acted in a governmental capacity at the time the claim arose" (Applewhite v Accuhealth, Inc., 21 N.Y.3d 420, 425 [2013]; see Tara N.P. v Western Suffolk Bd. of Coop. Educ. Servs., 28 N.Y.3d...

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