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Cullison v. Medley

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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Cullison v. Medley
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    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff Cullison met a 16 year old girl in a parking lot then invited her to his home for a soda, which she declined.  That night, she and her family came to Cullison’s home, surrounded him, and verbally threatened him with bodily harm if he did not leave the girl alone while her father was armed with a holstered revolver.  Cullison experienced mental trauma and distress as a result of the incident and sued for assault.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Assault is found where one intends to cause a reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact in another.

    Facts.  Plaintiff Cullison met 16-year-old Sandy Medley in a grocery store parking lot, invited her to have a soda with him and to come to his home to talk further.  A few hours later he was awoken by a knock at his door.  He was confronted by Sandy Medley, her father Ernest, her brother, brother-in-law, and mother.  Ernest had a revolver in a holster strapped to his thigh.  Sandy called him a pervert and her mother berated him.  Ernest kept grabbing and shaking the gun while still in the holster and threatening to jump astraddle of him if he did not leave Sandy alone.  Although no one ever touched Cullison, he feared he was about to be shot because Ernest kept grabbing the gun as if to draw it from the holster while threatening him.  As a result of this incident, Cullison sought psychological help to deal with nervousness, depression, sleeplessness, inability to concentrate, and impotency.  He sued the Medleys for assault, among other torts.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on all claims, the appeals court affirmed, and the Indiana Supreme Court reversed on the assault count.

    Issue. Whether threatening language coupled with a holstered pistol rises to the level of assault.

    Held. Yes.  Assault occurs when one intentionally creates the reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact in another.  It is a touching of the mind, if not the body, and as such, the damages which are recoverable are for mental trauma and distress.  It is assault to shake a fist under another’s nose, to aim or strike at him with a weapon or to hold it in a threatening position, or to surround him with a display of force.  Additionally, the apprehension must be one that would be aroused in the mind of a reasonable person.  In this case, a jury could reasonably conclude that the Medleys intended to frighten Cullison by surrounding him in his trailer and verbally threatening him with bodily harm while one of them was armed with a holstered revolver.  Accordingly, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the summary judgment on the assault count.

    Discussion.  It is important to note that typically words alone do not rise to the level of assault, unless together with acts or circumstances they put the other in a reasonable apprehension of imminent harm.  Moreover, the imminence element does not mean harm must be immediate, but that there will be no significant delay in effectuating the harm.


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