Munich v. Skagit Emergency Commc'n Ctr.Annotate this Case
William Munich was shot and killed by his neighbor, Marvin Ballsmider, approximately 18 minutes after he placed his first phone call to the Skagit Emergency Communications Center. The two had been in a property dispute related to access to a driveway and Ballsmider's property. Norma Smith, a Skagit 911 operator, took the call. Smith assured Munich that law enforcement was on the way. Smith entered the call as a priority two weapons offense rather than a priority one emergency call. Based on the code, the dispatched deputy, Dan Luvera, did not activate his emergency lights and only traveled slightly over the speed limit. About seven minutes later, Munich again called 911. Tammy Canniff took the second call, and Munich told her that he was running away from Ballsmider who was following and shooting. The dispatcher informed Deputy Luvera of these facts and the deputy consequently activated his emergency lights and siren and increased his speed. The second call ended with the sound of Munich being fatally shot on the highway. Deputy Luvera arrived two minutes later and arrested Ballsmider for Munich's murder. Munich was running toward the direction from which Deputy Luvera arrived. Munich's estate sued Skagit County, the Skagit County Sheriff's Office, and Skagit Emergency Communications Center (County) for wrongful death, alleging the County negligently responded to the incident. The County moved for summary judgment dismissal of the Estate’s claims asserting it was not liable for Munich's death under the public duty doctrine, specifically that the "special relationship" exception because the County provided no inaccurate or false information that Munich had detrimentally relied on. The trial court denied summary judgment, ruling the special relationship exception did not require false or inaccurate assurances. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that where the express assurance promises action there is no falsity requirement because the assurances may be superficially correct but negligently fulfilled. The accuracy, or lack thereof, of an assurance has no bearing on the issue of whether an actionable duty was established.