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Megenity v. Dunn

Supreme Court of Indiana

February 16, 2017

Tresa Megenity, Appellant (Plaintiff below),
v.
David Dunn Appellee (Defendant below).

         Appeal from the Floyd Superior Court 3, No. 22D03-1309-CT-1354 The Honorable Maria D. Granger, Judge

         On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 22A04-1506-CT-722

          Attorney for Appellant Kenneth G. Doane, Jr. Doane Law Office, LLC Jeffersonville, Indiana Attorneys for Appellee

          Richard T. Mullineaux Crystal G. Rowe Whitney E. Wood Alyssa C.B. Cochran Kightlinger & Gray, LLP New Albany, Indiana

          Rush, Chief Justice.

         Our decision in Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392 (Ind. 2011), established a limited new rule: Indiana courts do not referee disputes arising from ordinary sports activity. Instead, as a matter of law, when a sports participant injures someone while engaging in conduct ordinary in the sport-and without intent or recklessness-the participant does not breach a duty. Id. at 404. Today we clarify that under Pfenning ordinary conduct in the sport turns on the sport generally- not the specific activity.

          Here, during a karate class drill, David Dunn jump-kicked a bag, injuring Tresa Megenity, who was holding the bag. Since jump kicks are ordinary in the sport of karate generally, and no evidence supports intent or recklessness, Megenity cannot show breach as a matter of law. We thus affirm summary judgment for Dunn.

         Facts and Procedural History

         For two years, Tresa Megenity faithfully attended karate classes at a studio in southern Indiana, climbing the ranks until she earned her black belt. One Saturday, she attended a sixty-person class, open to all belt levels, that focused on nunchucks, sticks, sparring, and kicking.

         During the class, the students gathered to do a drill called "kicking-the-bag." Three volunteers, standing thirty feet apart in a triangle, held the bags. The students lined up and took turns sprinting to each bag and practicing a certain kick. The first two bags were for side kicks, and the last bag was for flying kicks.

         Megenity volunteered, as she had "countless" times before, to hold the flying-kick bag. To do a flying kick, one runs to the bag and kicks it with one foot while keeping the other foot grounded. Megenity later recounted that she would "obviously" feel an impact-indeed, even before her first class, she had acknowledged in a waiver that karate can be a "contact sport" involving a variety of physical strikes. So, she braced herself, gripping the bag and planting one foot firmly behind her.

         Meanwhile, green-belt David Dunn-a lower-ranked classmate and stranger to Megenity-made his rounds among the bags. He did proper side kicks against the first two bags, then began sprinting to Megenity's station. But instead of keeping one foot grounded during his kick, Dunn allowed both feet to leave the ground, executing what Megenity called a "jump kick." And although the jump kick hit the padded bag-not Megenity-the impact was "extreme, " sending Megenity flying and crashing to the floor, injuring her knee. Dunn promptly apologized, saying he "didn't mean to jump." Megenity required surgery and months of physical therapy.

         Megenity sued Dunn, alleging he "negligently, recklessly, and unreasonably" injured her. Dunn moved for summary judgment, arguing that under Pfenning, he breached no duty as a matter of law because jump kicks are "ordinary behavior" within the sport of karate generally. In response, Megenity agreed that Pfenning controlled but argued that a genuine issue of material fact remained as to breach, since a jump kick is "never done" within the specific drill being performed. The trial court granted summary judgment for Dunn, noting that the jump kick was "ordinary behavior of participants in karate within the context of a 'kicking the bag' drill."

         Megenity appealed, and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment because (1) the "'general nature of the conduct reasonable and appropriate for a participant' in a karate practice drill is not 'commonly understood and subject to ascertainment as a matter of law'" and (2) questions of fact remained as to whether Dunn's jump kick breached a duty. Megenity v. Dunn, 55 N.E.3d 367, 373 (Ind.Ct.App. 2016) (emphasis added) (quoting Pfenning, 947 N.E.2d at 403-04). ...


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