Torts II, Pages 684–686

Riss v. New York

New York Court of Appeals, 1968


Plaintiff was dating Pugach, but broke it off upon discovering that he had a wife and daughter. Pugach then threatened to kill her if she left him and harassed her for over six months. He threatened to harm her if she continued to reject him. She called the police concerning this multiple times, but they did not do anything. After becoming engaged to someone else, Pugach said that it was her "last chance." She called the police again to no avail. The next day Pugach hired three assailants who lye in plaintiff's face, permanently scarring and mostly blinding her. Afterwards, she was given around-the-clock protection for the next three-and-a-half years.

Procedural History:

  • Trial court dismissed plaintiff's complaint.

  • Appellate division affirmed.


Is a city liable for failing to provide special protection to a citizen who was repeatedly threatened with personal harm and suffered severe injuries for the lack of protection?


A city has limited resources to protect its citizens. Courts declaring that a city must protect certain people would cause them to determine how police resources are allocated without predictable limits. A legislature would have to assign such a duty to a police force before the courts could hold them liable for failing it. No one knows how best to combat crime, and the courts should not impose their presumed cures upon the governments.


Governments do not have tort liability for police protection to members of the public.



Dissenting Opinion:

Keating: Holding cities liable for failing to provide adequate police protection would not expose them to limitless liability. No one says that a city should be liable for all crimes, but if it is established that a reputable person has had verifiable attempts to injure or intimidate him with witnesses to support his claim, it should be required that something be done about it. Courts review administrative policies in every case against a city or state—it is not judicial interference to do so.


Pugach wrote Riss continually while in prison, and they married shortly after being released. Twenty years later, Pugach was accused of threatening another woman that he was having an affair with and Riss served as a character witness for him.