ORVILLE COLEY, ADMINISTRATOR (ESTATE OF LORNA COLEY) v. CITY OF HARTFORD, SC 19129

Judicial District of Hartford

 

      Negligence; Governmental Immunity; Whether Police Owed a Ministerial Duty to Remain at Scene of Domestic Violence Until Danger had Passed.  In 2007, Gerard Chapdelaine went to the home of Jahmesha Williams, who is the mother of Chapdelaine’s child, and threatened Williams’ life while brandishing a revolver.  Two Hartford police officers subsequently arrived at Williams’ home, but Chapdelaine was no longer present there.  The officers learned that Williams had a protective order against Chapdelaine, and after they were unable to locate him, they left the scene and prepared a warrant for Chapdelaine’s arrest.  Approximately three hours later, Chapdelaine returned to Williams’ home and shot and killed Williams’ mother, Lorna Coley.  The administrator of Coley’s estate (the plaintiff) subsequently brought this action against the city of Hartford pursuant to General Statutes § 52-557n, alleging that Coley’s death was caused by the negligence of the city’s police officers.  Under § 52-557n, a municipality may be held liable for its negligent acts that cause injury to an individual, except where those acts require the exercise of discretion.  The city filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the negligence claim was barred by the doctrine of governmental immunity.  The trial court granted the motion, finding that the actions of the police officers were discretionary, not ministerial.  On appeal, the plaintiff claimed that the officers breached a ministerial duty pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-38b, which provides that, when responding to a complaint of domestic violence, if the officer determines that no cause exists for an arrest, the officer shall remain at the scene “for a reasonable time until, in the reasonable judgment of the officer, the likelihood of further imminent violence has been eliminated.”  The Appellate Court (140 Conn. App. 315) disagreed, finding that § 46b-38b did not apply in this case because the officers did not determine that there was no cause for an arrest.  The court explained that the officers left the scene with the intention of obtaining a warrant for Chapdelaine’s arrest.  The court also rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the city’s police response procedures imposed a ministerial duty upon the officers to remain at the scene for a reasonable time.  It reasoned that the procedures were created to protect victims of domestic violence such as Williams, and, therefore, any duty owed by the police under the procedures was owed to Williams, not to Coley.  The court further opined that, even if the officers owed a duty to Coley to remain at the scene for a reasonable time, any such duty would have necessarily required the exercise of discretion because the procedures merely required that an officer exercise reasonable judgment in determining when it would be appropriate to leave the scene.  In this appeal, the plaintiff argues that, in deciding that § 46b-38b did not apply in this case, the Appellate Court improperly relied upon a ground that was not raised by either party.  The plaintiff further maintains that § 46b-38b applies here and that the officers owed a ministerial duty to Coley to remain at the scene for a reasonable time until the danger had passed.