Sample rule proof
The direct contact element of the special relationship doctrine arises from the notion that a municipality owes a special duty of protection to those individuals to whom it has promised protection rather than to society at large. The direct contact requirement serves to reinforce the policy goal of limiting the class of persons with whom a municipality will be determined to have a special relationship and to whom it may be held financially liable. Direct contact is met when the plaintiff has actual contact with a municipal agent. 1 However, 2 courts have treated the element with flexibility based on the "peculiar circumstances of each case, all of which must be considered in light of the policies underlying the narrow special duty doctrine." Cuffy v. City of New York, 69 N.Y.2d 255, 262 (1987). Thus, 3 courts have found direct contact satisfied by various third parties acting on behalf of a victim. For instance, 4 the direct contact requirement has been met by spouses and parents making contact on behalf of a related victim and by unrelated third parties who share a common interest in protection under circumstances in which the third party communicates assurances of protection to the victim.

Contact made by adults on behalf of their spouses or minor children satisfies the direct contact requirement. 5 See, e.g., Cuffy, 69 N.Y.2d at 261-262 (finding direct contact when one member of a household reported to the police a threat by his neighbors that extended to all of his family members living with him in the household, although these other family members did not have actual contact with the police); Sorichetti v. City of New York, 65 N.Y.2d 461 (1985) (finding direct contact when mother who had obtained an order of protection against her estranged husband reported to police that her husband had issued threats and had failed to return their six-year-old daughter after a visitation period); Stata v. Village of Waterford, 225 A.D.2d 163 (1996) (finding direct contact when husband reported to firefighters that his wife was trapped in burning building). 6 The relaxation of the direct contact requirement for children and members of the same household is a logical result of the equitable goals of the doctrine. 7 Implicit in this extension of the exception for third-party contact is the determination that related adults and minor children share the same interests, and therefore a promise of protection elicited by one party satisfies the direct contact element for the other party. 8

The requisite contact is also satisfied when non-familial parties make actual contact with the police and elicit a promise of protection on behalf of a group of similarly situated individuals. 9 See, e.g., Thomas v. City of Auburn, 217 A.D.2d 934 (1995) (holding that two bar patrons who, along with the bartender at the establishment, had been threatened by another patron, had satisfied direct contact when the bartender alone elicited a promise of protection from police officers that, in the context of the situation, covered the two bar patrons). Direct contact was found under these circumstances on the theory that the victims were in the zone of danger along with the party who made contact with police. Id. 10

The sufficiency of third party contact has also depended on whether the third party, serving as the victim's agent, communicated the promise of police protection to the victim. 11 See, e.g., S.C. Freidfertig Builder Ltd. v. Spano, 173 A.D.2d 454 (1991) (holding that a contractor's employee who communicated to the plaintiff property owner a firefighter's assurances that a fire on the property had been extinguished established the requisite contact by acting on behalf of the plaintiff). 12

A weak rule proof is one that contains irrelevant information, delays or omits relevant information, or omits a statement about the relevance of the case to the rule. Sometimes new legal writers have trouble judging which case facts are relevant; such writers often over-elaborate, and thus distract the reader with details. Sometimes the writer will have a sense that a case is relevant but is not completely sure how, and so cannot do a good job of explaining the relevance. In any case, without explaining the relationship of the case to the rule (via thesis sentences), the rule proof will read like a series of disparate case synopses and not as clear support of your rule statement. It is not a virtue to recount cases just because you know them well; you discuss case material in the rule proof only to the extent that you need to support your rule statement.


1) Note the repetition of "direct contact" at the beginning of each of the first three sentences of the paragraph, reinforcing the centrality of this element to the paragraph, and the logical development of the idea from one sentence to the next.

2) Note transitional expression that signals a shift in direction of the discussion.

3) Note use of transitional expression that signals writer's amplification of the idea in the preceding sentence.

4) Note transitional expression that signals writer's illustration of the idea in the preceding sentence.

5) Note thesis sentence that carries forward the idea in the first half of the sentence concluding the preceding paragraph.

6) Note use of parentheticals to communicate key facts and holdings of cases that illustrate the portion of the rule stated in the opening sentence of the paragraph.

7) Note restatement and reinforcement of the idea contained in the preceding sentences—relaxation of requirement for children and members of the same household.

8) Note how writer develops link between family members and shared interests, two aspects of the exception to actual contact.

9) Note how writer returns with greater specificity to the idea introduced more generally in the second half of the sentence that concludes the first paragraph.

10) Note use of parenthetical and following sentence that elaborates on the facts and holding.

11) Note thesis sentence that picks up idea introduced in the second half of sentence concluding the first paragraph—third party acts on behalf of victim and communicates assurances of protection to victim.

12) Note use of parenthetical summarizing facts and holding of case.