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Casey v. State

Supreme Court of New York, Third Department

March 16, 2017

COLLEEN CASEY, Respondent,

          Calendar Date: January 20, 2017

          Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General, Albany (Brian D. Ginsberg of counsel), for appellant.

          Luibrand Law Firm, PLLC, Latham (Kevin A. Luibrand of counsel), for respondent.

          Before: Garry, J.P., Egan Jr., Devine, Clark and Aarons, JJ.


          GARRY, J.P.

         Appeals (1) from a decision of the Court of Claims (Hard, J.), entered June 18, 2015, in favor of claimant, and (2) from the judgment entered thereon.

         In April 2009, claimant was employed by the Office of Court Administration as a senior court officer and was assigned to the Troy Police Court in the City of Troy, Rensselaer County. Claimant owned four handguns under a valid pistol permit, including her service weapon, which she transported back and forth daily from her home, and three private weapons that she kept at her home. Claimant's employment as a court officer was governed by the Court Officers Rules and Procedures Manual, which provides, as pertinent here, that when the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge with authority over the court to which a court officer is assigned deems it proper to do so, he or she may prohibit the officer "from carrying or possessing a firearm or any other weapon, " and that, upon such a prohibition, the officer "shall turn in to [his or her] supervisor all firearms owned or possessed by the court officer" (Court Officers Rules and Procedures Manual § 6.90 [3], [4]).

         While claimant was so employed, the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Courts Outside New York City issued a directive that immediately suspended her firearm privileges. It was the obligation of an officer who then held the rank of major (hereinafter the Major), with responsibility for all security operations in the Third Judicial District, to carry out the suspension. Accompanied by several other officers, the Major traveled to the courthouse to meet individually with claimant and relieve her of her service weapon. After claimant turned over her service weapon, the Major and three other officers escorted her out of the courthouse to their vehicle, transported claimant to her home and took possession of her personal firearms [1]. Claimant thereafter filed a verified claim seeking damages for false imprisonment and other claims and alleging, as pertinent here, that the Major and the other officers acted without authority and without claimant's consent in confining her, controlling her movements and compelling her to travel with them to her home. The Court of Claims conducted a bifurcated trial on the issue of liability, found that defendant was liable for false imprisonment, and dismissed the other claims. Following the second part of the bifurcated trial, the court issued a judgment awarding damages to claimant. Defendant appeals. [2]

         To establish her claim of false imprisonment, claimant was obliged to show that defendant intended to confine her, that she was conscious of her confinement, that she did not consent to it and that the confinement was not privileged (see Martinez v City of Schenectady, 97 N.Y.2d 78, 85 [2001]; Broughton v State of New York, 37 N.Y.2d 451, 456-457 [1975]; Miller v State of New York, 124 A.D.3d 997, 998 [2015]). Upon appeal, defendant does not challenge the findings of the Court of Claims that claimant was intentionally confined, was aware of her confinement and did not consent to it. Defendant's sole contention is that the court should have found that the detention was privileged on the ground that the Major's authority to command claimant through lawful orders carried with it a privilege to keep claimant under the Major's supervision and to control her movements when claimant did not immediately comply with the lawful order to surrender her personal firearms. Defendant bore the burden to establish the affirmative defense of privilege (see Cass v State of New York, 134 A.D.3d 1207, 1209 [2015], lv dismissed 27 N.Y.3d 972');">27 N.Y.3d 972 [2016]; Moulton v State of New York, 114 A.D.3d 115, 120 [2013]), and we agree with the Court of Claims that defendant failed to meet this burden.

         Where, as here, there is no claim that a confinement took place "under a valid process issued by a court having jurisdiction" (Nazario v State of New York, 75 A.D.3d 715, 718 [2010] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted], lv denied 15 N.Y.3d 712');">15 N.Y.3d 712 [2010]), confinement that would otherwise be unlawful will be found to be privileged only if the defendant establishes that it was "reasonable under the circumstances and in time and manner" (Barrett v Watkins, 82 A.D.3d 1569, 1572 [2011] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]; see Zegarelli-Pecheone v New Hartford Cent. Sch. Dist., 132 A.D.3d 1258, 1259 [2015]). The reasonableness of a defendant's actions in this context is determined based upon all of the circumstances, including such considerations as the need, if any, to protect persons and property, "the manner and place of the occurrence, and the feasibility and practicality of other alternative courses of action" (Sindle v New York City Tr. Auth., 33 N.Y.2d 293, 297 [1973]).

         Here, defendant contends that the directive suspending claimant's firearm privileges provided that it was "effective immediately, " and that, in transporting claimant to her home to obtain her firearms, the Major acted within her duty to promptly effectuate the directive and "ensure [claimant's] compliance" (Court Officers Rules and Procedures Manual § 13.10 [4]). Defendant further argues that claimant was obliged by the rules that governed her employment to "promptly obey all lawful orders" from a supervisor and to turn over her firearms "when so ordered by a [m]ajor" (Court Officers Rules and Procedures Manual §§ 1.30 [A]; 6.90 [4]), but that she did not do so. Instead, defendant contends upon appeal that claimant resisted, became intransigent and upset, and repeatedly refused to obey directives, thus obliging the Major and the other officers to restrict and control her movements in order to protect the public safety and promptly effectuate the suspension directive. Assuming without deciding that proof that claimant was noncompliant and distraught might have sufficed to establish a privilege to confine her and control her movements, the evidence that defendant submitted at trial provided no such proof and fails to support its assertions upon appeal.

         At trial, defendant presented the testimony of the Major and two of the officers who assisted her in relieving claimant of her firearms. None of these witnesses gave any testimony whatsoever describing claimant as intransigent, noncompliant or upset, nor did they assert that her conduct or demeanor had any effect on their decisions as to how to effectuate the suspension of her firearm privileges. The testimony of the officers who assisted the Major was brief and wholly devoid of assertions that claimant was distressed or uncooperative. The testimony of the Major was the only evidence offered by defendant that provided a detailed account of events [3]. Nothing in the Major's testimony described claimant as distraught or noncompliant. On the contrary, in the Major's account, claimant affirmatively proposed the trip to her home to pick up her weapons and freely consented to be transported there in the officers' vehicle. According to the Major, the transfer of claimant's service weapon was accomplished "[q]uickly and efficiently. [Within] minutes." As to her personal weapons, claimant advised that they were locked inside her home, and that she did not have a house key with her at the courthouse. Claimant refused to allow the court officers to retrieve the key from claimant's relative at his place of employment, explaining that she did not want uniformed officers arriving at her relative's workplace. Notably, this was the sole instance during the entire encounter, as described by defendant's witnesses, when claimant failed to fully cooperate with directions. Rather than pressing claimant on this point, the Major then allegedly offered to wait with claimant at the courthouse until she was picked up from work that afternoon. However, claimant allegedly offered to go immediately and to seek access to her house in another manner.

         According to the Major, claimant then agreed with the suggestion that the Major and the other officers would transport claimant to her house to see if she could gain entrance; if not, they would return with her to the courthouse to wait for the relative. Claimant then willingly exited the courthouse, accompanied by the other officers. As they walked toward their vehicle, another fellow officer offered claimant a ride, which the Major directed her not to accept. Claimant allegedly agreed by saying "okay, " and got into the officers' vehicle. Contrary to claimant's account of events, the Major testified that the officers did not push claimant or put their hands on her to cause her to move in any particular direction, nor did anyone force her to get into the vehicle.

         After arriving at claimant's home, claimant was able to gain entrance. In direct contrast to defendant's current assertion - that is, that constant supervision of claimant until her firearms were secured was necessary for safety reasons because of her noncompliant, distraught attitude - the Major testified that she told claimant that she trusted her and permitted her to enter the house where her firearms were stored, alone and unsupervised, while the other officers waited outside. After entering the house, claimant allegedly opened the door to invite the Major in, secured her dogs, and turned over her firearms. The Major then ...

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