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Santaiti v. Town of Ramapo

Supreme Court of New York, Second Department

June 20, 2018

Diana Santaiti, etc., respondent,
v.
Town of Ramapo, etc., appellant, et al., defendants. Index No. 31509/16

          Argued - January 30, 2018

         D55700 M/htr

          Sokoloff Stern LLP, Carle Place, NY (Steven C. Stern and David A. Gold of counsel), for appellant.

          Levine & Gilbert, New York, NY (Harvey A. Levine of counsel), for respondent.

          REINALDO E. RIVERA, J.P. ROBERT J. MILLER SYLVIA O. HINDS-RADIX JOSEPH J. MALTESE, JJ.

          DECISION & ORDER

         In an action to recover damages for personal injuries and wrongful death, the defendant Town of Ramapo appeals from (1) an order of the Supreme Court, Westchester County (Linda Christopher, J.), dated February 24, 2017, and (2) an amended order of the Supreme Court, Rockland County (Linda Christopher, J.), dated May 4, 2017. The amended order, insofar as appealed from, denied that branch of the motion of the defendant Town of Ramapo, made jointly with the defendant Town of Ramapo Police Department, which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a) to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against it.

         ORDERED that the appeal from the order dated February 24, 2017, is dismissed, as that order was superseded by the amended order dated May 4, 2017; and it is further, ORDERED that the amended order dated May 4, 2017, is affirmed insofar as appealed from; and it is further, ORDERED that one bill of costs is awarded to the plaintiff.

         This action was commenced by the plaintiff in her capacity as the administrator of the estate of her mother, Patricia A. Nigro, who was shot and killed by her husband, William T. Groesbeck.

         The complaint alleged that Nigro and Groesbeck lived together at a residence in Sloatsburg, New York, which was within the jurisdiction of the defendant Town of Ramapo Police Department (hereinafter the Town police department). The complaint also alleged that Groesbeck was a former police officer who had worked for the Ramsey, New Jersey Police Department. The complaint alleged that although Groesbeck possessed a "carry weapon'' while residing at the Sloatsburg residence, he did not possess a license to carry or possess the weapon in the State of New York.

         The complaint alleged that, on an unspecified date in 2015, Nigro contacted the Town police department after Groesbeck physically assaulted her. The complaint alleged that members of the Town police department responded to the couple's Sloatsburg residence, where Nigro told them that Groesbeck had assaulted her and that she feared for her life. Nigro allegedly notified the responding police officers that Groesbeck possessed a handgun. The complaint alleged that the officers confiscated Groesbeck's handgun but did not arrest him.

         The complaint alleged that the Town police department later learned that Groesbeck had been a police officer in New Jersey and that it "illegally and irresponsibly returned" the handgun to Groesbeck "even though he could not produce and in fact did not have a license' to possess the handgun in the State of New York.

         The complaint alleged that on October 21, 2015, Groesbeck viciously beat Nigro, causing skull fractures and other internal injuries. Groesbeck then shot and killed Nigro with the same handgun that had been returned to him by the Town police department. After murdering Nigro, Groesbeck took his own life.

         The plaintiff sought to recover damages against, among others, the Town of Ramapo for personal injuries and wrongful death. The complaint alleged that the Town, by virtue of the actions of the Town police department, was negligent in returning the handgun to Groesbeck. The complaint alleged that the Town police department did not have the legal authority to return the handgun to Groesbeck since he was not licensed to possess it in the State of New York. The complaint further alleged that Nigro had relied upon the fact that the Town police department would comply with existing law.

         The Town moved, inter alia, pursuant to CPLR 3211(a) to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against it, submitting evidence in support of its motion. The Town argued that it did not owe Nigro a duty of care since there was no special relationship between her and the Town police department. The Town further contended that Groesbeck's criminal acts were a superseding cause of Nigro's death. Finally, the Town argued that the doctrine of governmental immunity shielded it from liability for the discretionary actions ...


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