NY City Liable When Police Bust Drug Dealer?

A municipality is generally not liable for negligent police protection absent a “special relationship” with the plaintiff. A special relationship can be established if the municipality assumed an affirmative duty to act, had knowledge that inaction could lead to harm, had direct contact between its agents and the injured party, and the injured party justifiably relied on the municipality’s affirmative undertaking.

This principle was tested in Matican v. City of New York. The plaintiff had been arrested after purchasing drugs from a certain drug dealer. While in custody, the plaintiff agreed to become a confidential informant to help the police arrest the dealer. The plaintiff did so under the proviso that the police would arrest the dealer under the pretext of an ordinary traffic violation and that, if the dealer made bail and came after the plaintiff, the police would protect him.

The next day, the plaintiff called the dealer to meet at their agreed spot. Each time they had met at this spot in the past, the dealer made an illegal U-turn. Instead of living up to the arrangement and stopping the dealer for making an illegal U-turn, the police swarmed the dealer’s car by emerging from three separate police cars. They then tore the car apart, eventually finding the drugs in the dealer’s underwear. When the dealer made bail, he went after the plaintiff for ratting on him.

Although the Supreme Court granted summary judgment to the City, the Second Department reversed, finding that there were issues of fact as to whether the City assumed an affirmative duty to (1) protect the plaintiff by concealing his identity when they arrested the dealer, and (2) to protect the plaintiff from retaliation.

Thanks to Gabriel Darwick for his submission.