The First Department determined the landlord, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), was not liable for the shooting death of plaintiff’s decedent, Murphy, despite conclusive video evidence the locking mechanism on the door the assailants used to enter plaintiff’s decedent’s building was broken. Disagreeing with the Second Department’s characterization of the First Department’s jurisprudence in similar third-party assault cases, the First Department held that the assailants were intent on shooting plaintiff’s decedent and would have gained entrance to the building even if the locking mechanism worked. Therefore the assailants’ actions constituted the sole proximate cause of plaintiff’s decedent’s death:
We disagree with the [Second Department’s] implication that under this Court’s jurisprudence the fact that a victim was targeted obviates the need for any inquiry into the security measures in place at the subject premises. Indeed, we are aware of no case in the First Department that suggests that a landowner would avoid liability even if minimal precautions would have actually prevented a determined assailant from gaining access. In reality, however, that is hardly ever the case. In Buckeridge v Broadie (5 AD3d 298, 300), … the assailants were “sophisticated” and disguised themselves to gain entry. In Cerda v 2962 Decatur Ave. Owners Corp. (306 AD2d 169, 170 [1st Dept 2003]) … the plaintiff was assaulted by a “team of assassins.” … [C]ases confirm that this Court has not abandoned the notion that more than the simple fact that a victim was targeted is necessary to shield a property owner from liability. … [T]he cases confirm that, given the minimal steps a landowner is required to take to secure premises, it has no duty to outwit or outthink those who are determined to overcome those steps.
The record establishes that Murphy’s killers were intent on gaining access to the building. … [C]onsidering that at least one other person, by all appearances oblivious to the brouhaha … , entered the building at the same time, it does not take a leap of the imagination to surmise that [the assailants] would have gained access to the building by following another person in or forcing such a person to let them in. This negates the unlocked door as a proximate cause of the harm that befell Murphy, and makes her assailants’ murderous intent the only proximate cause. Estate of Murphy v New York City Hous. Auth., 2021 NY Slip Op 02246, First Dept 4-13-21