Faulkner v. Daddona
The fact that a claim is based upon an officer's alleged failure to enforce a statute, does not, in and of itself, make enforcement of that statute a ministerial duty. Patricia Faulkner brought an action to recover damages for injuries she allegedly suffered in Watertown when she was thrown off the back of a motorcycle operated by Thomas Bouchard, who swerved to avoid hitting a tow truck which suddenly pulled out onto the highway while responding to an unrelated prior accident. She alleged against the town of Watertown and two employees, Officer Kevin Conrad and police Chief John Gavallas, inter alia, breaches of duties to properly secure the prior accident scene and to enforce town rules and regulations governing the performance of town towing services by private contractors. The trial court granted the town defendants' motions to strike and, thereafter, rendered judgment. The plaintiff appealed claiming that the court improperly concluded that she failed to set forth legally cognizable causes of action and that governmental immunity barred the claims. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The town defendants were performing governmental functions when engaged in the conduct complained of and, thus, the court properly relied upon governmental immunity in granting the motion. The challenged claims were based upon alleged violations of discretionary duties and were barred by governmental immunity. The plaintiff contended that some claims against Conrad involved breaches of ministerial duties because they alleged his failure to enforce certain statutes or to follow provisions of the Watertown police department general orders. However, a police officer's decision whether and how to enforce a statute necessarily requires an examination of the surrounding circumstances and a determination of what enforcement action, if any, is necessary and appropriate in those circumstances. Such a decision invariably involves the exercise of judgment and discretion. Department directives also described duties whose performance required the exercise of judgment and discretion, for which the officer was entitled to governmental immunity. Conrad was entitled to governmental immunity for a claim that he failed to close the trunk lid on his cruiser to avoid obscuring his emergency lights to oncoming traffic. Whether to activate emergency lights and open the lid were judgments requiring the officer to assess the circumstances and exercise judgment as to how best to proceed.