Connecticut Supreme Court Rules For Newtown In a Personal Injury Case Involving a Hospital Shooting

January 5, 2018

New Haven, CT – On Wednesday, December 20, 2017, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Town of Newtown in a significant decision applying principles of governmental immunity to municipal police departments. 

The case involved an elderly, unstable man who came to the Newtown Police Department because he was hearing voices talking to him through the floor of his house.  The police brought the man into the station and arranged for him to be transported to Danbury Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. They did so pursuant to a state statute that authorizes police to take into custody, and send to a hospital for emergency examination, any person they reasonably believe has psychiatric disabilities and is dangerous to himself or others or gravely disabled and in need of immediate care and treatment.  The police did not search the elderly man while he was at the station, and the next day he shot a nurse at the hospital with a gun that was in his jacket pocket. 

The nurse sued Newtown, claiming that governmental immunity did not apply because the police had a "ministerial, nondiscretionary duty" to conduct a search incident to arrest under the Police Department's arrest policy.  The plaintiff claimed that duty arose because the policy defined "arrest" as taking someone into "custody," and the police had taken the elderly man into "custody" pursuant to the state psychiatric review statute. The trial court rejected the plaintiff's arguments and granted summary judgment to the Town on the basis of governmental immunity.

The Supreme Court upheld the trial court's decision, holding that the requirement of a search incident to arrest in the Department's policy was limited to criminal arrests, and did not apply when the police take a person into custody pursuant to state law solely for the purpose of transporting the person to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation and care.  The state statute, the Court noted, "is part of a broader legislative scheme focused on psychiatric disability, mental health, and commitment, not criminal procedure."  The Court also recognized that applying principles of governmental immunity in this case was "particularly appropriate" because of the ‘‘broad scope of governmental immunity that is traditionally afforded to the actions of municipal police departments.''

Wiggin and Dana attorneys, Aaron Bayer and Tadhg Dooley, represented the Town of Newtown in this case. To read the full opinion, please click here.

Aaron Bayer, a litigation partner, is the head of the firm's Education Practice Group and the former chair of the firm's Appellate Practice. He has briefed and argued numerous cases before state and federal appeals courts in Connecticut and other states around the country. Prior to joining the firm, Mr. Bayer served as Deputy Attorney General of Connecticut from 1991-2000, overseeing the work of the Office's 200 attorneys and managing the Office's most complex and politically sensitive cases. He has been recognized for his appellate work in Best Lawyers in America and Benchmark Litigation.

Tadhg Dooley is counsel in the firm's Appellate and Complex Legal Issues Practice Group. Tadhg has significant experience handling appeals in state and federal courts throughout the country. Among his recent appellate successes are the representation of a former President of Mexico in the Second Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court, major insurance carriers in the Eleventh Circuit and the New York Appellate Division (Second Department), and several municipalities and a major hospital in the Connecticut Appellate Court. He has been recognized by New England Super Lawyers as one of eight "Rising Stars" in New England in the field of appellate litigation.