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Baptie v. Bruno

Supreme Court of Vermont

December 6, 2013

Thomas R. Baptie and Mary L. Baptie, Individually and as Administrators of the Estate of John Baptie
v.
Jonathan Bruno and Aron McNeil

Page 1213

Editorial Note:

This Opinion is subject to motion for reargument or formal revision before publication. See V.R.A.P. 40

On appeal from Superior Court, Rutland Unit, Civil Division. Mary Miles Teachout, J. (Motion for Summary Judgment); William D. Cohen (Final Judgment).

Thomas W. Costello and George Anthes of Costello, Valente & Gentry, P.C ., Brattleboro, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

James F. Carroll and Constance Tryon Pell of English, Carroll & Boe, P.C ., Middlebury, for Defendant-Appellee.

Present: Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Burgess and Robinson, JJ., and Bent, Supr. J., Specially Assigned.

OPINION

Page 1214

Burgess, J.

[¶ 1] Plaintiffs Thomas and Marie Baptie, administrators of the estate of their son, John Baptie, appeal the superior court's decision granting defendant Aron McNeil, a former police officer, summary judgment with respect to their lawsuit alleging that the officer was liable for the death of their son as the result of his negligent investigation of their complaint against defendant Jonathon Bruno, the man who murdered their son four days after they made the complaint. We agree with the superior court's conclusions that defendant is entitled to qualified official immunity from plaintiffs' lawsuit and that, in any event, plaintiffs cannot prove all of the elements of their negligence or intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) claims. Accordingly, we affirm the superior court's grant of summary judgment in defendant's favor.

[¶ 2] The record, viewed most favorably to plaintiffs, reveals the following facts. On October 28, 2007, defendant Aron McNeil, a Town of Castleton police officer at the time, responded to Thomas Baptie's 911 call indicating that his family had received threatening telephone calls from a person named Jonathon Bruno, who was angry because plaintiff's son, John Baptie, had not paid Bruno money that Bruno believed was owed him. Thomas reported that Bruno had threatened to come over and shoot him and his family. Defendant went to the Baptie residence in response to the 911 call. Thomas was unhappy that a local police officer, and particularly defendant, responded to his call because of his past run-ins with the Castleton Police Department and defendant, but defendant told him that his only option was working with local police.

[¶ 3] After informing defendant of the threats Bruno had made during three telephone calls to the Baptie residence that evening, Thomas played a threatening voicemail message that Bruno had left during the last telephone call. John told defendant that he had known Bruno most of his life and that Bruno had just been released from prison a month or two earlier. John also told defendant that he owed Bruno $30 or $40 for baseball cards and not anything else. Defendant advised Thomas that he would call Bruno and tell him to stop calling the Baptie residence. He asked Thomas to let him know if Bruno continued to call, in which case he would consider it harassment by telephone.

[¶ 4] At that point the telephone rang, and Thomas allowed defendant to answer it. Defendant then engaged in a conversation with Bruno, the caller. Defendant told Bruno to stop calling the Baptie residence. He also tried to obtain personal information from Bruno, but Bruno was not responsive to questions concerning his identity or whereabouts. Defendant told Bruno that he knew Bruno was on probation and that if he came to the Baptie residence he would be charged with unlawful trespass. After the call ended, defendant asked Thomas to call ...


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