Police Dog Bite Case Continues

In the recent decision of Newsome v. County of Suffolk, the Appellate Division, Second Department, considered the “professional judgment rule” in the context of a negligence claim arising from a police dog bite.

Plaintiff, a custodian, was bitten by a “dog employed by the canine unit of the Suffolk County Police Department” while at a high school “at the request of police personnel, who needed him to open certain doors in order to conduct a search.”

Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint on the ground of “immunity.” The trial court denied the motion, and the appellate court affirmed.

The court stated the law as follows:

The professional judgment rule insulates a municipality from liability for its employees’ performance of their duties where the … conduct involves the exercise of professional judgment such as electing one among many acceptable methods of carrying out tasks, or making tactical decisions. … However, the immunity afforded a municipality for its employee’s discretionary conduct does not extend to situations where the employee, a police officer, violates acceptable police practice.

The appellate court held that the trial court correctly denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment, regardless of the sufficiency of plaintiff’s opposition papers, because defendants failed to establish their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.

Specifically, defendants’ evidence presented a question of fact as to “whether the conduct of the dog’s handler was consistent with acceptable police practice.”

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