New York’s ‘Special Duty’ Rule Officially Applies to No-Knock Warrants

Last week, the Court of Appeals issued a decision that clarifies the special duty of law enforcement executing a no-knock warrant to protect the residents of the building the police are trying to enter. In Ferreria v. City of Binghamton (2022 WL 837566), the police executed a no-knock warrant in search of a suspected felon. The Plaintiff, who was sleeping on the couch, was seriously injured when he was shot by a SWAT officer.

No-knock warrants allow law enforcement to enter a property without immediately notifying the people who may be inside. They are often executed either late at night or early in the morning, with the idea being that the lack of notice prevents the destruction of potentially important evidence. As this case makes clear, when executing a no-knock warrant there is a risk that residents may be injured. 

When the Plaintiff in Ferreria brought his lawsuit against the City of Binghamton, he implicated the Special Duty Rule. Simply, the Special Duty Rule allows an individual to sue a municipality (such as a town or city) if they show that the municipality owed them a duty of protection greater than that of being an ordinary member of the public, and a violation of that duty caused the Plaintiff’s injury. In this case, the Plaintiff sued the City of Binghamton, claiming that the City, through the actions of the SWAT agents, violated a special duty that they had to keep the people inside the residence safe from unnecessary harm or injury. 

In its opinion, the Court of Appeals clarified that a special duty arises when a no-knock warrant is executed. The court notes that the “execution of a no-knock warrant is a charged and volatile situation undertaken at the direction and supervision of municipal actors”. Because no-knock warrants are directed by municipal actors, and because of their surprising and potentially violent nature, the police effectively assume responsibility for the people inside. 

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About Carolyn A. McGuigan

Carolyn McGuigan's practice is focused on personal injury litigation. Ms. McGuigan is an associate in the firm's New York Office.

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