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LAROCCO v. CITY OF NEW YORK

March 15, 1979

Michael LaROCCO, an infant by his parent and natural guardian, Josephine LaRocco, and Josephine LaRocco, Individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, State of New York, Police Department of the City of New York,State of New York, New York City Police Officer Walter Smith, County of Nassau, State of New York, Nassau County Medical Center, State of New York, PoliceDepartment of the County of Nassau, Detectives "John Doe" and "Richard Roe" said names being fictitious and presently unknown, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PRATT

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs commenced this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking compensatory and punitive damages in connection with the alleged false arrest and imprisonment of, and assault on, plaintiff Michael LaRocco. LaRocco was arrested in Nassau County for unlawful operation of an automobile by defendant Walter Smith, a New York City police officer who was off duty at the time. During the arrest, Smith allegedly shot and wounded LaRocco, who was subsequently taken to the Nassau County Medical Center for treatment of his injuries, by the two unknown Nassau County police officers named as defendants here. Defendants New York City and Nassau County now move to dismiss the complaint as against them, relying on Monell v. Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611 (1978).

 NEW YORK CITY'S MOTION

 Since the city's motion is based on undisputed facts and on material outside of the complaint, it shall be treated as a motion of summary judgment. The first cause of action in the amended complaint, filed January 3, 1979, charges all the defendants except Nassau County with depriving Michael LaRocco of his constitutional rights in violation of § 1983. The remaining causes of action against the city are pendent claims, alleging false arrest, assault and battery, prima facie tort due to the denial of proper medical care, and loss of services and companionship.

 In Monell, the Supreme Court held that under limited circumstances, a local government could be held liable for damages under § 1983:

 
Local governing bodies * * * can be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory or injunctive relief where * * * the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers. Moreover, * * * local governments * * * may be sued for constitutional deprivations visited pursuant to governmental "custom" even though such a custom has not received formal approval through the body's official decisionmaking channels. Id., 98 S. Ct. at 2035-36.

 Plaintiffs assert that the constitutional deprivations alleged in the first cause of action here, stemmed from the city's policy, regulation, or custom requiring its police officers to carry a weapon at all times and to intervene in any disturbance of the peace, whether they are "on" or "off" duty. The city argues that the relevant policy or regulation applies only when its police officers are within New York City:

 
1. Be armed at all times when in the city of New York, unless otherwise directed, with:
 
A. Service revolver.
 
B. Off duty revolver * * * . New York City Police Department Patrol Guide, Section 105-1, subheading "Equipment Firearms" (as amended July 18, 1977).

 Although Smith is a New York City police officer, the incident took place in Nassau County, where, under the New York City police regulation, Smith was not obliged to be armed. By no stretch of the imagination, therefore, could Smith's shooting of Michael LaRocco be viewed as implementing or executing a policy statement or regulation officially adopted by the city.

 Plaintiffs also argue that even if it is not an officially adopted city policy or regulation for its officers to be armed while off duty outside the city, it is at least a customary requirement. Under Monell, however, it is clear that the policy or custom itself must be the cause of the constitutional deprivation:

 
* * * a local government may not be sued for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents. Instead, It is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, Inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under section 1983. Id., 98 S. Ct. at 2038 (emphasis added).

 The custom for city police officers to carry their guns while off duty and outside the city, assuming it to exist, is at best facially neutral. Clearly, it was not execution of the custom, but Smith's possible abuse of the privilege, that inflicted the injury ...


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