In Gund v. County of Trinity, a 5-2 Supreme Court today bars a lawsuit against a police officer who called a couple asking them to check on a neighbor after the neighbor made a 9-1-1 call seeking help.  As the court explains, the couple, without being warned of circumstances suggesting danger, “walked into an active murder scene and suffered a violent attack.”

The court’s opinion by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar interprets Labor Code section 3366, which allows workers’ compensation benefits — but no other relief — for people “engaged in assisting any peace officer in active law enforcement service at the request of such peace officer.”  The majority, saying it feels compelled “to understand ‘active law enforcement service’ requested by a peace officer in capacious terms,” holds the statute covers “activities objectively associated with functions such as public protection or criminal investigation and enforcement, without regard to whether the requesting officer sufficiently conveys the full extent of the risks or whether a volunteer subjectively understands the risks police were asking her to assume.”

Justice Joshua Groban — joined by Justice Ming Chin — dissents.  He asserts the officer’s call in this case was not among the “many requests to respond to a 911 call of an uncertain nature [that] will objectively be understood as a request for assistance with active law enforcement service.”  Instead, he says, the officer “expressly characterized the nature of the call, assuring [the one plaintiff he spoke with] that the request ‘must be’ about ‘a big storm coming’ and was ‘probably no big deal.’  He also failed to relay to [the plaintiff] critical details of the 911 call that would make her aware of the true nature of the request and the potential danger.”  Justice Groban characterizes the majority’s rule as “one that allows peace officers to omit crucial information or even to lie in order to convince civilians to render assistance without risking tort liability.”

Although the court took the rare step of reviewing the Third District Court of Appeal’s decision without anyone asking them to do so, it affirms the appellate court.