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Media Alerts - Velez v. City of New York - Second Circuit
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September 18, 2013
  Velez v. City of New York - Second Circuit
Headline: Second Circuit Upholds Verdict Rejecting Claim against New York City for Negligence in the Wrongful Death of Confidential Police Informant, Finding No "Special Relationship" Existed Between New York City Police Officers and the Informant

Area of Law: Torts

Issues Presented: Whether a special relationship or duty must exist between a confidential informant and police officers to hold New York City liable for negligence in the informant's wrongful death under New York law.

Brief Summary: Anthony Valdez was a former confidential informant to New York City Police Officers Rudolph Hall & Michael Ruggerio. In 2004, Valdez tipped off police to a stash of guns and drugs at an apartment owned by a man named "Sonny" in New York City. In a raid on the apartment based upon the tip, police took various people, but not Valdez who was also present, into custody. Shortly after the raid, Valdez was shot and killed outside that apartment building by Sonny. Valdez's estate sued the two officers and New York City for negligence in his wrongful death, claiming the New York Police Department (NYPD) had a duty to protect Valdez, and by not taking him into custody, exposed him to danger by making it obvious he was an NYPD informant. At trial, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York instructed the jury that police generally owe a duty of protection to the public at large, rather than an individual person and, therefore, the City could not be negligent in Valdez's death unless a special relationship existed between Valdez and the NYPD officers. A jury found the defendants not guilty and Valdez's estate appealed, seeking a new trial on the basis of erroneous jury instructions. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed and denied the Appellant a new trial.

To read the full opinion, please visit: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...1a7cb435409/1/hilite/


Extended Summary: Anthony Valdez was a former confidential informant to New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers, Rudolph Hall & Michael Ruggerio. In 2004, Valdez told Officer Hall about a possible a stash of guns and drugs at an New York City apartment owned by a man named "Sonny" and indicated to Hall that he would call the NYPD's anonymous tip line and provide the same information. Officer Hall told his supervisor, Officer Ruggerio, to expect an anonymous tip, but did not explicitly indicate Valdez was the source. Acting on the tip, Ruggerio's unit raided the apartment, with officers instructed to bring in for questioning, if present, individuals who were subjects of outstanding NYPD arrest or parole warrants. During the raid, the officers took two people into custody, but not Valdez, who was also present. Shortly after police left the scene, Valdez was shot and killed outside that same apartment building by Sonny.

Valdez's estate sued Officers Hall and Ruggerio and New York City asserting federal and state constitutional claims, a claim for negligent "training," and charging the defendants with negligence in Valdez's wrongful death. Specifically, his estate argued that the NYPD had a duty to protect Valdez and, by not taking him into custody, exposed him to danger by making it obvious he was a police informant. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed the constitutional claims as a matter of law and, on the negligence claim, instructed the jury that because police generally owe a duty of protection to the public at large, rather than an individual person, the City could not be negligent in Valdez's death unless a special relationship existed between Valdez and the NYPD officers. A jury found the defendants not guilty and Valdez's estate appealed for a new trial on the basis of erroneous jury instructions.

The Second Circuit affirmed, and denied the request for a new trial. Citing the New York Court of Appeals' June 2013 decision in Applewhite v. Accuhealth, Inc., the Second Circuit agreed with the District Court that, under New York law, when a municipality is engaged in a governmental function at the time of the alleged negligence, such as "providing police protection," a plaintiff must prove the municipality owed a "special duty" to the injured party. The Second Circuit explained that to establish that a special relationship existed between the NYPD and Valdez, the jury had to find the evidence at trial sufficiently demonstrated that: 1) the NYPD assumed an affirmative duty to act on behalf of Valdez; 2) Officer Hall and Ruggerio knew that inaction could lead to harm; 3) there was direct contact between the officers and Valdez; and 4) Valdez justifiably relied on the NYPD's duty to act. The Second Circuit concluded that the evidence adduced at trial did not compel the conclusion that a threat to Valdez's life was reasonably apparent to officers Hall and Ruggerio and, therefore, upheld the jury's determination that the plaintiff had failed to sustain its burden of proof. The Second Circuit also determined that the District Court correctly instructed the jury that all four elements of a special relationship had to be established as to Hall or Ruggerio, the City's "agents," in order for New York City to be liable. The court concluded that Hall's and Ruggerio's knowledge of Velez's identity and role in the police operation, but not of any potential danger to him, was "fatal to plaintiff's claim against the City."

To read the full opinion, please visit: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...1a7cb435409/1/hilite/

Panel: Judges Lynch, Lohier, & Carney

Argument: 03/06/2013

Date of Issued Opinion: 09/18/2013

Docket Number: 12-1965-cv

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Andrew S. Paliotta

Counsel: Michael G. O'Neill for Plaintiff-Appellant and Kathy H. Chang, Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of New York (New York City Law Department)

Author of Opinion: Judge Lynch

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Elyse Diamond Moskowitz

    Posted By: Elyse Diamond @ 09/18/2013 08:00 PM     2nd Circuit  

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