United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
MICHAEL W. RONDINI, et al., Plaintiffs,
TERRY J. BUNN, JR., Defendant.
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case is before the court on Defendant Terry J. Bunn,
Jr.'s (“Defendant”) Motion for Summary
Judgment. (Doc. # 121). The Motion has been fully briefed
(see Docs. # 122, 139, 141) and is ripe for
review. After careful review, and for the reasons
discussed below, this case is due to be stayed pending
certification of a question to the Supreme Court of Alabama.
Michael and Cynthia Rondini (“Plaintiffs”) have
sued Defendant and asserted claims arising out of the alleged
sexual assault of their daughter, Megan Rondini, and her
to a transcript from a video interview between Megan and the
police on July 2, 2015, 20-year-old Megan Rondini met
Defendant, a 34-year-old man, at a Tuscaloosa pub on July 1,
2015. (Doc. # 122-13 at 6). While leaving the
pub, Megan was approached by Defendant, who drove Megan first
to her apartment where they drank alcohol, and then to
Defendant's residence in Cottondale, Alabama.
(Id. at 10, 39; Doc. # 122-1 at 42). Once inside
Defendant's house, Megan stated that Defendant asked her
to go upstairs to his bedroom. (Doc. # 122-13 at 15).
Contemporaneously, Megan sent a few text messages to her
friends, saying things such as (1) “pick me up in the
morning, ” (2) “we are going to guck.”
(Doc. # 122-11 at 2).
Megan went to Defendant's bedroom, she stated that when
Defendant came into the room, “he went and sat on his
bed and he, like, wanted me to sit with him and I was just
kind of, like, and then he kind of, like, made comments like
he wanted to have sex and I really didn't want to and he
walked over to me and, like, started trying to kiss me and I
didn't really want to.” (Id. at 17). During
that time, Megan stated that she “wasn't really
looking at him, I kind of - I had already said, like, I
needed to leave and he wasn't really responding to that,
so I kind of just let him do it. (Id. at 19).
Defendant was asleep, Megan went into the bathroom,
“kind of panicking, ” and she was trying to get
her shoes on when she began contacting her friends asking
them to come get her. (Id. at 22). Some of the text
messages Megan sent to her friends included: “I
can't get out of the room help, ” “Omg I . .
. he's asleep I can't get out help, ” “I
can't get out the door is locked, ” and
“please help me.” (Doc. # 122-7). Megan then
realized that the door to exit the bedroom was locked by a
“little pin” that would not open. (Doc. # 122-13
at 22). She resorted to jumping out of a second-story bedroom
window to leave Defendant's residence. (Id. at
anyone arrived to pick her up, Megan searched for her keys
but could not find them, so she climbed back up through his
window to search for them in Defendant's room. However,
she still could not find them. (Doc. # 122-10 at 10-11).
Finally, her friends arrived and drove her home.
friends took her to their apartment first and then “to
DCH Hospital in Tuscaloosa, ” where she reported to
medical personnel and the Tuscaloosa Sheriff's Department
that she had been raped. (Doc. # 122-13 at 25). Megan
underwent a rape examination at the hospital. (Id.).
same day, police officers spoke with Defendant at his
residence. (Doc. # 122-2 at 8-9). Defendant denied
Megan's presence at his residence during the prior
evening. (Doc. # 122-1 at 54). When Defendant was later
questioned by the police at the Sheriff's Department, he
and his attorney were left alone to talk. During this
conversation, which was videotaped, Plaintiffs assert that
Defendant admitted to his attorney that he could not remember
anything from that evening because he was intoxicated.
(Id. at 62).
staying with her parents in Austin, Texas for a few months,
in August 2015, Megan returned to the University of Alabama
for the fall semester. She saw a psychotherapist, Dr. Susan
Arnold, on September 25, 2015 and October 2, 2015, who
diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”) and anxiety stemming from PTSD. (Doc. #
122-15 at 13). During Megan's first psychiatric
evaluation with Dr. Arnold, Dr. Arnold reported that Megan
was “very tearful and upset while she described [her
rape].” (Id.). Dr. Arnold also stated that
Megan's thought content was “very[, ] very afraid;
in constant fear.” (Id. at 17). After Dr.
Arnold developed a treatment plan for Megan, which primarily
consisted of medication for her anxiety and PTSD, Megan
withdrew from the University in October 2015. (Doc. # 122-3
at 61). She returned to Austin, Texas after learning that one
of the classes she was registered to take involved a
volunteer project that was sponsored by one of
Defendant's companies. (Id.).
in Texas, Megan began seeing a therapist by the name of Betty
Bewley. (Id. at 65). Megan saw Ms. Bewley weekly
from October 2015 to December 2015. (Id.). Ms.
Bewley also recommended that Megan see a psychiatrist, so
Megan began seeing Dr. Ziba Rezaee. (Id.). Dr.
Rezaee “confirmed Megan's diagnosis of anxiety,
depression, and PTSD” and prescribed her medication for
those disorders, as well as medication for nightmares.
this same time, Megan was admitted to Southern Methodist
University and began taking classes there. (Id. at
69). While at SMU, Megan began seeing Dr. Donna Cozort, a
psychiatrist, in Dallas, Texas in late January/early February
2016. (Id. at 71). However, Megan did not like Dr.
Cozort, so she only met with her once. (Id.). Megan
then sought additional counseling at the SMU Health Clinic.
February 24, 2016, Megan filled out a “Health History
Form” at the SMU Health Clinic. (Doc. # 139-1 at 16).
She reported suicidal thoughts on the form. (Id.).
She recounted her history of “PTSD, depression, [and]
anxiety stemming from sexual assault and rape on July 1,
2015.” (Id.). She reported the rape, police
bullying, and her change of universities as major losses,
changes, or crises in her life. (Id. at 19). On the
morning of February 26, 2016, Megan committed suicide. (Doc.
# 139-2 at 2).
Fourth Amended Complaint was filed on August 1, 2018. (Doc. #
100). Plaintiffs' Fourth Amended Complaint only contains
one count: Wrongful death. (Doc. # 100 at 11, ¶¶
49, 50). Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that: (1) Defendant
“unlawfully and intentionally detained and imprisoned
Megan Rondini [both in his car and then in his bedroom]
against her will for a length of time whereby he deprived her
of her personal liberty;” and (2) Defendant
“intended to cause Megan imminent, harmful or offensive
contact with her person when he forcefully and intentionally
raped Megan.” (Id.).
Standards of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is
proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party asking for
summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of
informing the court of the basis for its motion and
identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings which
it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. Id. at 323. Once the moving party has
met its burden, Rule 56 requires the non-moving party to go
beyond the pleadings and -- by pointing to affidavits, or
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and/or admissions on
file --designate specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.
substantive law will identify which facts are material and
which are irrelevant. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). All reasonable doubts
about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved
in favor of the non-movant. See Allen v. Bd. of Pub.
Educ. for Bibb Cty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1314 (11th Cir.
2007); Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112,
1115 (11th Cir. 1993). A dispute is genuine “if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson,
477 U.S. at 248. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is
not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.
See Id. at 249.
faced with a “properly supported motion for summary
judgment, [the nonmoving party] must come forward with
specific factual evidence, presenting more than mere
allegations.” Gargiulo v. G.M. Sales, Inc.,
131 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 1997). As Anderson
teaches, under Rule 56(c) a plaintiff may not simply rest on
her allegations made in the complaint; instead, as the party
bearing the burden of proof at trial, she must come forward
with at least some evidence to support each element essential
to her case at trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.
“[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for
summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere
allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set
forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial.'” Id. at 248 (citations
judgment is mandated “against a party who fails to make
a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element
essential to that party's case, and on which that party
will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex
Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. “Summary judgment may be
granted if the non-moving party's evidence is merely
colorable or is not significantly probative.”
Sawyer v. Sw. Airlines Co., 243 F.Supp.2d 1257, 1262
(D. Kan. 2003) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at
the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not
himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the
matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
“Essentially, the inquiry is ‘whether the
evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law.”
Sawyer, 243 F.Supp.2d at 1262 (quoting
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52); see also LaRoche
v. Denny's, Inc., 62 F.Supp.2d 1366, 1371 (S.D. Fla.
1999) (“The law is clear . . . that suspicion,
perception, opinion, and belief cannot be used to defeat a
motion for summary judgment.”).
sole remaining cause of action in this case is a claim for
wrongful death. Under Alabama Code § 6-5-410(a):
A personal representative may commence an action and recover
such damages as the jury may assess in a court of competent
jurisdiction within the State of Alabama, and not elsewhere,
for the wrongful act, omission, or negligence of any person .
. . whereby the death of his testator or intestate was
caused, provided the testator or intestate could have
commenced an action for such wrongful act, omission, or
negligence if it had not caused death.
court's January 8, 2018 Order, it concluded that
Plaintiffs could not maintain a wrongful-death action based
on Defendant's alleged negligence, but that they could
potentially maintain such a claim upon an alleged
intentional act committed by Defendant. (Doc. # 60
at 24). The court addressed Gilmore v. Shell Oil
Company, 613 So.2d 1272 (Ala. 1993) (addressing when a
decedent's suicide is an “intervening efficient
cause” that breaks the chain of causation flowing from
a defendant's negligence) and Prill v.
Marrone, 23 So.3d 1 (Ala. 2009) (addressing when a
defendant's negligent conduct causes a decedent
to experience an “uncontrollable impulse” to
commit suicide), and found that neither standard squarely
applied to a wrongful-death claim based on a defendant's
wrongful death claim is based on wanton (i.e.,
intentional) and wrongful conduct on the part of Defendant.
Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that Defendant intentionally
falsely imprisoned Megan, intentionally sexually assaulted
her, and that his conduct was an assault and battery and
outrageous under Alabama law. The primary questions the court
must answer are (1) whether there is substantial evidence
that Defendant committed an intentional tort against Megan
(i.e., false imprisonment, assault and/or battery,