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Riss v. City of New York

Citation. 240 N.E.2d 860 (N.Y. 1968)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The plaintiff sued the city’s police department after the failed to protect her after she reported the threat.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A city does not have a duty to provide special protection to a citizen who was credibly threatened.


Plaintiff rejected an attorney suitor, who did not take it well.  He threatened her, at one point saying “if I can’t have you, no one else can have you, and when I get through with you, no one else will want you” to her.  Obviously terrified, the plaintiff went to the police, asking for protection.  She was rebuffed, and allegedly not taken seriously.  The suitor continued to harass her for 6 months, until finally the plaintiff was engaged to another man.  The next day, the rejected suitor hired a “thug” who splashed her in the face with lye, which blinded her in one eye, partially blinded her in the other, and severely disfigured her face.  She brought suit against the police department.


Is the defendant under a duty to provide special protection to a citizen facing an imminent threat?


No, the defendant does not have a duty to provide special protection to the plaintiff.


Justice Keating, J.

The justice dissent on the grounds that the police have a duty to protect the general citizens.  He argues that the government has a duty to protect its citizens, and because of that, the failure of the police department was a breach of that duty, and consequently the plaintiff should be able to recover.


The majority finds for the defendant, and held that they did not have a duty to provide special protection.  The court reasons that to impose a duty here would create an untenable precedent because the police department has limited resources, and not enough to provide special protection to every person who needed it.  They opine that to extend liability here would be the purview of the legislators, and thus they decline to extend it in the absence of legislative intent to do so.

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