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Bunch v. Frank

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 28, 2016

BRYAN FRANK, et al., Defendants.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge United States District Court Southern District of Indiana

         This cause is before the Court on the United States' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 61). The motion is fully briefed and the Court, being duly advised, GRANTS the motion for the reasons set forth below.


         Plaintiff Kristine Bunch alleges the following facts in her Complaint against the United States (Dkt. No. 1 in Cause No. 1:15-cv-160-RLY-TAB).[1] Because the issue before the Court is whether the United States is entitled to immunity for Bunch's claims, the Court assumes for purposes of this motion that these facts are true.

         Bunch's Greensburg, Indiana mobile home caught fire in the early morning hours of June 30, 1995, killing her three-year-old son, Anthony. An investigation into the cause of the fire soon ensued. Indiana Fire Marshal investigators Bryan Frank and James Skaggs gathered evidence from Bunch's home and quickly concluded that “the fire was deliberately set, that accelerants had been used to cause the fire, that there were ‘pour patterns' in the burned out home where accelerants had been poured, and that the fire had started in two separate locations, one of which was the bedroom in which Anthony was sleeping.” Compl. ¶ 8.

         In support of their theory, Frank and Skaggs sent the evidence to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”) to be tested. William Kinard, a forensic chemist and gunshot residue analyst specialist (“GRA specialist”) with the ATF, was assigned to the case. Kinard concluded that several samples, including those from Anthony's bedroom (“Exhibit 8”) and the living room (“Exhibit 6”), had no traces of Heavy Petroleum Distillates (“HPDs”) or any other accelerants. He documented these findings in his initial report and communicated them to Skaggs and Frank.

         Because Kinard's findings were inconsistent with Skaggs and Franks' theory of the case, they “caused Kinard's report to be altered so that it falsely stated that accelerants were found in exhibits 6 and 8, ” Compl. ¶ 24, and “Kinard agreed to alter his report to state that accelerants were found in exhibits 6 and 8, and concocted an ‘official' report which falsely so stated.” Id. ¶ 25. Kinard also agreed not to include his finding that the areas that tested positive for HPDs were only “consistent with the presence of kerosene, for which there was an innocent explanation”; rather, his official report would state that “they were consistent with a much broader array of HPDs[.]” Id. ¶ 26. Skaggs, Frank, and Kinard submitted only the “official” report to the Decatur County State's Attorney in July 1995.

         In 1996, Bunch was convicted of Anthony's murder and sentenced to sixty years in prison. In 2006, Bunch filed a post conviction petition challenging her conviction. During the post conviction proceedings,

it was first revealed that Kinard had prepared at least two reports that found no HPDs in exhibits 6 and 8-the crucial evidence from the bedroom and the “pour pattern” in the living room-and that Kinard had also determined that the HPDs found in other parts of the home were consistent only with kerosene, not other HPDs.
It also was revealed for the first time in the course of these proceedings that Kinard had communicated his real findings to Skaggs and Frank, that these findings had been suppressed, and that subsequently his official report had been altered and fabricated to inculpate [Bunch].

Id. ¶¶ 38-39. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Bunch's conviction on March 21, 2012, finding that “the State's failure to turn over a report from the ATF testing of floor samples violates Brady[.]” Id. ¶ 41; see also Bunch v. State, 964 N.E.2d 274 (Ind.Ct.App. 2012). Transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court was denied, and on December 17, 2012, all charges against Bunch were dropped. In all, Bunch spent seventeen years in prison.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the admissible evidence presented by the non-moving party must be believed, and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the non-movant's favor. Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009) (“We view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.”). However, a party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must show what evidence it has that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., Inc., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). Finally, the non-moving party bears the burden of specifically identifying the relevant evidence of record, and “the court is not required to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Ritchie v. Glidden Co., 242 F.3d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 2001).

         III. ...

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