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MESSINA v. BONNER

February 16, 1993

DONNA MESSINA and LINDA GUNDERSEN
v.
CORNELIUS BONNER and DOROTHY MARGARET BONNER



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STEWART DALZELL

MEMORANDUM

 Dalzell, J.

 February 16, 1993

 Defendants in this case, the stepfather and natural mother of two sisters who have sued them for alleged sexual abuse that concluded eighteen years ago, moved under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a) for judgment as a matter of law after the close of the plaintiffs' case on February 10, 1993. We granted that motion after rendering an oral opinion from the bench that day, and this Memorandum will amplify the reasons we stated in open court for our decision.

 Background

 As noted, the plaintiffs in this case are sisters who on January 2, 1992 filed their diversity action in this court for alleged sexual abuse that concluded in 1975. Their complaint's four counts assert claims for assault and battery, "psychological assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress", negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The complaint demanded "in excess of" $ 2 million from the Bonners, who are retired and live on Social Security in Florida.

 Summarizing three days' testimony in the light most favorable to them, Donna Messina was born in 1959 as Donna Gundersen, and Linda Gundersen, her sister, was born in 1962. Their parents were Dorothy and David Gundersen. David Gundersen died in 1968, and his widow remarried her brother-in-law, the girls' uncle, Jack Bonner, in 1969.

 The combined Gundersen and Bonner families lived in a large home in Hatboro, Pennsylvania. According to both sisters, almost immediately after their mother's remarriage, Jack Bonner commenced his sexual abuse, first allegedly with Linda while still at the former Gundersen home on Rising Sun Avenue in Philadelphia, and soon after with Donna at the house in Hatboro. According to plaintiffs' testimony, the abuse continued until it stopped in 1975 when Donna finally said "No!" to Jack Bonner and complained to her mother.

 In 1983, Donna Gundersen married Daniel Messina. The two remain married, and have one child. Linda Gundersen has never married. Both sisters graduated from Hatboro-Horsham High School, and Linda Gundersen has since continued her study of English literature. Both have worked most of the time since leaving high school.

 Mrs. Messina and Ms. Gundersen each testified that they have always remembered the incestuous acts by Jack Bonner. Linda Gundersen, for example, admitted at trial that she "always knew that she was molested."

 At the close of plaintiffs' case, after three days of a jury trial, defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a).

 Legal Analysis

 Rule 50(a) authorizes the Court to "grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law" when "there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to have found" for a party who "has been fully heard with respect to an issue." We must view "all the evidence which has been tendered ... in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion", and conclude that "no [reasonable] jury could decide" in plaintiffs' favor. Indian Coffee Corp. v. Proctor & Gamble Co., 752 F.2d 891, 894 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 863, 88 L. Ed. 2d 150, 106 S. Ct. 180 (1985). While it is true that our procedural task is in all material respects similar to the enterprise triggered by a summary judgment motion, we have the benefit of what is an unquestionably fuller record than we would have had on such a pretrial dispositive motion. See Charles A. Wright and Arthur R. Miller, 9 Federal Practice and Procedure § 2532 (1971 Ed.), citing, with approval, Eighth Circuit authority for a modest, though meaningful, distinction between the procedural postures.

 We have benefitted greatly in our analysis of this statute of limitations question from the thorough canvass of authority by our colleague, Judge VanArtsdalen, in Baily v. Lewis, 763 F. Supp. 802 (E.D.Pa. 1991), aff'd, 950 F.2d 721, 722 (3d Cir. 1991). In his review of authority from around the United States, Judge VanArtsdalen, citing Judge Plunkett's analysis in Johnson v. Johnson, 701 F. Supp. 1363 ...


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