On Monday afternoon you might have heard a great popping sound, that was the sound of a number of heads around Alameda exploding once the ruling in the Raymond Zack case came through. While those that wanted to see Alameda’s public safety units and, I supposed, the City of Alameda by extension pay for the events on that Memorial Day are now decrying the “activist judge” in the case or musing on moral duty or suggesting that some new precedence was created on Monday, honestly there should have been nothing truly shocking about the decision made on Monday.
First, the courts really aren’t in the business of making ruling based on “morality” since it’s a pretty vague philosophy that I would image differs from person to person and culturally as well. To make the assumption that courts should follow one arbitrary set of “moral” values sort of flies in the face of what the judicial system is supposed to be about. But that’s a different topic for a different day.
Also, given that the judge in the Zack case simply applied the existing precedence set by an existing decision, it’s a bit of a stretch to call him an “activist” as though he crafted new law. I wrote about one of the existing decisions here.
Here’s the really relevant part of the decision:
Furthermore the policy of preventing future harm, extent of burden to defendants, and consequences to the community of finding a duty weigh heavily in favor of not imposing additional tort liability that would deter police and firefighters from responding to emergencies and rendering assistance in the type of highly volatile and unpredictable situations faced by the officers and firefighters here.
While the “ policy of preventing future harm, extent of burden to defendants, and consequences to the community of finding a duty” may sound like a whole lot of mumbo jumbo on the part of the judge, it is — in fact — part of a seven prong balancing test set forth in a 1968 decision to determine whether a “duty of care” is owed to a specific plaintiff, in this case, Raymond Zack. The judge in this case felt as though these factors were not met.
The interesting thing about this case and defense was even though the County of Alameda was also party to the lawsuit, at no point did the County take part in the legal back and forth. The ruling actually only dismisses the City of Alameda, but since all the causes of action are the same for all parties, it looks like the County of Alameda benefited from the City of Alameda vigorously defending itself. The City of Alameda has until February 19 to serve and file a proposed judgment of dismissal. I’m assuming it won’t take even that long to get that filed.