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Q: New Youk Supreme Court ruling ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: New Youk Supreme Court ruling
Category: Reference, Education and News
Asked by: mysteryman841-ga
List Price: $40.00
Posted: 23 Jan 2005 07:02 PST
Expires: 22 Feb 2005 07:02 PST
Question ID: 461943
Several years ago the NYSC ruled that the police had a duty to protect
society as a whole,not the individual.
It concerned a woman who sued the NYPD for not responding to her 911 call.
Can you find the particulars of that case.I cant find it anywhere.

Request for Question Clarification by markj-ga on 23 Jan 2005 08:55 PST
mysteryman --

Is it possible that the case you recall could be from the 1960s?  This
case arose before the advent of the 911 system but it involves a fact
situation in which a woman sued the NYPD for damages for failing to
respond to her urgent pleas to the police to protect her from her
violent boyfriend, who ultimately injured her.

The court denied her claim, and the decision was upheld on appeals. 
The case stands for the proposition that the primary duty of the
police is to protect the community at large and not to allocate its
resources to provide protection to individuals.

The case is well-known and often cited with disapproval by domestic
violence prevention organizations and others.

If you are not confident that this is the case you have in mind, any
further information you can provide would be helpful.  For example,
are you sure your case involved 911 calls?


Clarification of Question by mysteryman841-ga on 23 Jan 2005 12:14 PST

Yes,the case I was refering to is the one you mentioned.
I had thought that the 911 system was involved,but I was wrong.
Could you provide me with the info you have?
      Thank you
Subject: Re: New Youk Supreme Court ruling
Answered By: markj-ga on 23 Jan 2005 14:25 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
mysteryman841 --

Thanks for your clarification.  Based on your advice, I am confident
that the case you are interested in is "Linda Riss v. City of New
York, Court of Appeals of New York, 22 N.Y.2d 579, 293 N.Y.S.2d 897,
240 N.E.2d 860 (1968)."  As you may know, the highest court in New
York is called the "Court of Appeals," not the "Supreme Court."  The
latter, confusingly enough, is the name given to the lower, trial
courts in the state.

If, after reviewing the information I have for you, you decide that
this is not the case you remember, please ask for clarification
without rating the answer, and I would be happy to continue the

Here is a link to the text of the majority and dissenting opinions in
the Riss case:

Healy Law Offices: Riss v. City of New York

I am sure you will want to read the entire decision (which is fairly brief), but
here for your immediate reference is some of the language that seems
particularly relevant to your question:

Summary of the facts:

"Linda Riss, an attractive young woman, was for more than six months
terrorized by a rejected suitor well known to the courts of this
State, one Burton Pugach. This miscreant, masquerading as a
respectable attorney, repeatedly threatened to have Linda killed or
maimed if she did not yield to him: 'If I can't have you, no one else
will have you, and when I get through with you, no one else will want
you'. In fear for her life, she went to those charged by law with the
duty of preserving and safeguarding the lives of the citizens and
residents of this State. Linda's repeated and almost pathetic pleas
for aid were received with little more than indifference. Whatever
help she was given was not commensurate with the identifiable danger.
On June 14, 1959 Linda became engaged to another man. At a party held
to celebrate the event, she received a phone call warning her that it
was her 'last chance'. Completely distraught, she called the police,
begging for help, but was refused. The next day Pugach carried out his
dire threats in the very manner he had foretold by having a hired thug
throw lye in Linda's face. Linda was blinded in one eye, lost a good
portion of her vision in the other, and her face was permanently
scarred. After the assault the authorities concluded that there was
some basis for Linda's fears, and for the next three and one-half
years, she was given around-the-clock protection."

The Court's holding and its essential reasoning:

"The amount of protection that may be provided is limited by the
resources of the community and by a considered legislative-executive
decision as to how those resources may be deployed. For the courts to
proclaim a new and general duty of protection in the law of tort, even
to those who may be the particular seekers of protection based on
specific hazards, could and would inevitably determine how the limited
police resources of the community should be allocated and without
predictable limits.  .  .  .  .

"Before such extension of responsibilities should be dictated by the
indirect imposition of tort liabilities, there should be a legislative
determination that should be the scope of public responsibility.  .  .

"When one considers the greatly increased amount of crime committed
throughout the cities, but especially in certain portions of them,
with a repetitive and predictable pattern, it is easy to see the
consequences of fixing municipal liability upon a showing of probable
need for and request for protection.  .  .  .

"[T]here is no warrant in judicial tradition or in the proper
allocation of the powers of government for the courts, in the absence
of legislation, to carve out an area of tort liability for police
protection to members of the public."

Judge Keating wrote a vigorous dissent to the decision, which directly
follows the majority opinion at the website linked above, and which I
commend to your attention.

The Riss case is regularly cited by organizations that oppose gun
control legislation as undermining a constitutional right to
self-defense.  Here's a link to two examples: "A Strategy for Defeating Gun Control in the United
States" (Riss case reference about 2/3 down the page)

Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership: Dial 911 and Die!
(Riss reference almost halfway down the page)

It is also cited in law school tort courses as a leading case in the area:

UC Berkeley Law School: Course Outline: Torts (about halfway down the page)

Search Strategy:

I used various Google searches to narrow down the likely possibilities
for your answer to this one case.  Here are two useful examples, among
many others:

" v city of new york" 911

"riss v city"

I then used other searches to fill out the information, such as:

"riss v city" "gun control"

As noted above, I am reasonably confident that this is the case you
are looking for.  It matches your outline of the facts and the law of
the case you remember, and it is a very often cited as the preeminent
New York case in the area in law school tort course syllabuses and

I am happy to be able to provide you with an answer promptly,  If
anything is unclear, please ask for clarification before rating the

mysteryman841-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thank you for your help.I had spent 3 days trying to find this
info,but had no idea where to begin looking for the answer. I greatly
appreciate your prompt help,and will use this feature in the future.

Subject: Re: New Youk Supreme Court ruling
From: joey-ga on 23 Jan 2005 14:49 PST
I've been waiting for this question to open from being locked, so that
I could list out another case it could be.

There have been more cases in NY than one could easily count that
cover this subject, some of which *have* involved 911.

Most notably, look to Merced v. City of New York, 552 NYS.2d 96 (NY
1990).  Summary as follows:
Survivors of woman who bled to death following gunshot wound brought
wrongful death action against city for negligent failure to
investigate 911 call. The jury returned verdict against city for
$84,000 for conscious pain and suffering and $960,000 for wrongful
death. On city's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the
Supreme Court, Bronx County, 142 Misc.2d 442, 534 N.Y.S.2d 60, denied
motion. The Supreme Court, Appellate Division, 141 A.D.2d 1008, 530
N.Y.S.2d 423 (unpublished opinion) affirmed, and city appealed. The
Court of Appeals held that city could not be held liable for injuries
resulting from failure to reasonably investigate decedent's neighbor's
call to 911 dispatcher absent evidence that decedent contacted agents
of the municipality or relied on any assurances of assistance so as to
warrant conclusion that conduct of municipality deprived decedent of
assistance that reasonably could have been expected from another

To reach its decision, the court cited Cuffy v. City of New York, 513
NYS.2d 372 (NY 1987) which notes:
"This rule is derived from the principle that a municipality's duty to
provide police protection is ordinarily one owed to the public at
large and not to any particular individual or class of individuals."

This, in turn, was derived from a very longstanding rule that was very
similar, and dated back to the early 20th century (and no doubt was
later influenced by the case that Mark found).

Subject: Re: New Youk Supreme Court ruling
From: markj-ga on 23 Jan 2005 15:24 PST
To  joey-ga:

While the facts of the Merced case are in some ways generally similar
to those of the situation described in the question, one fundamental
difference is that in Merced it was not the victim that called the
police, it was the victim's neighbor.

There are other New York cases that have a superficial resemblance as
well, so my research focused on finding the New York case that best
fits the facts described, was specifically decided on the issue of a
police department's primary responsibility to protect the community at
large, and is considered by law academics and relevant interest groups
to be the "leading case" on the subject in New York.

I remain confident that the Riss case fills that bill, and I am sure
that mysteryman841-ga will let us know if I am on the wrong track.

Subject: Re: New Youk Supreme Court ruling
From: markj-ga on 24 Jan 2005 05:57 PST
mysteryman841 --

Thanks much for the kind words and the five stars.  


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