Court Grants Kobe Bryant Motion for Summary Judgment Against Fan

Jul 30, 2010

Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant has been exonerated by a federal judge after he was sued by the wife of a man, who claimed her husband was assaulted by Bryant, while sitting courtside at an NBA basketball team.
The man, Bill Geeslin, charged that Bryant, going after a loose ball in a road game against the Memphis Grizzlies, collided with the man and then pushed his forearm into the man’s chest as he tried to get back into the play.
In granting Bryant’s summary judgment motion, the court held that the plaintiff “consented to the conduct” by sitting courtside, and that it was clearly one man’s word against another with regard to whether Bryant tried to harm the man or expeditiously get back into the play.
The incident occurred on November 14, 2005. During the game in question, a Lakers player recovered a loose ball at the Grizzlies end of the floor, opposite the plaintiff’s seat. The player attempted to throw the ball to Bryant, according to the court. … But the ball went out of bounds and Bryant’s momentum carried him into contact with the plaintiff. Geeslin did not have time to get out of Bryant’s way.
“After the initial contact, (Bryant) contends that he pushed his forearm into (Geeslin’s) chest to get up and back into the game,” wrote the court. “(Geeslin), however, contends that (Bryant) did not simply use his forearm to get up and leave but rather asserts that (he) intentionally forearmed him. (Geeslin) further notes that after (Bryant) forearmed him, he glared at him, did not apologize, and walked away. (Geeslin) feels (Bryant’s) action was an attempt to intentionally inflict pain upon him because it was unnecessary for the (Bryant) to forearm him.”
Two days after the incident, the plaintiff sought medical attention at the Great River Medical Center and was diagnosed with a bruised lung cavity and was given prescriptions for medicine and a breathing machine to be used at home. Geeslin also claimed that he suffered from anxiety after the incident.
Two weeks after the game, the plaintiff decided to sue Bryant because he felt violated, because Bryant should not have been able to “inject such pain,” and because he was “disrespected.”
Geeslin sued Bryant for assault and battery as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress. Bryant moved for summary judgment.
“The first element of an assault claim under Tennessee law is an ‘intentional attempt’ or the ‘unmistakable appearance of an intentional attempt to do harm to another person.’ Here, it seems to be undisputed that the defendant’s forearm made some type of contact with the plaintiff’s chest when the defendant was attempting to get back into the game. The plaintiff adamantly characterizes this contact as an ‘intentional forearm to the chest’ by which the defendant intended to cause him harm. To support this assertion, the Plaintiff speculates that the defendant intended to cause him harm because (1) the Lakers were losing at the time and (2) the referee had not called a foul during the fast break.”
The Court, however, found that “no reasonable juror could conclude that the defendant intended to harm the plaintiff when he effectively pushed himself off of the plaintiff’s chest to get up and back in the game. As such, the plaintiff has failed to make the requisite showing for his assault claim under Tennessee law.” Thus, the court granted summary judgment on the assault claim.
Turning to the battery claim, the court noted that “a battery occurs when an individual intentionally inflicts a harmful or offensive physical contact upon the person of another without the consent of the victim.”
“It is a well established principle in the law that a spectator at a sporting event consents to having the players proceed with the game without taking precautions to protect him or her,” wrote the court. “For instance, ‘a spectator entering a baseball park may be regarded as consenting that the players may proceed with the game without taking precautions to protect him from being hit by the ball.’”
“Here, the plaintiff engages in what can be best described as a segmenting analysis in support of his battery claim. He breaks the contact that occurred between himself and the defendant into two parts: (1) Bryant running into him, and (2) Bryant ‘intentionally forearming’ him. The plaintiff concedes that by sitting in court side seats he consented to the possibility that a player, such as Bryant, might run into him during the course of a play. The plaintiff, however, contends that he did not assume the risk or consent to be used as a ‘human punching bag,’ i.e. intentionally forearmed.
“Disregarding the plaintiff’s colorful characterization of Bryant’s forearm to his chest, the plaintiff arguably consented to the entire contact, rather than just the first segment as he suggests. The plaintiff testified that the defendant’s arms first struck him as the defendant ran into his seat. He also indicated that the defendant fell into his seat in an attempt to keep the ball in play. The plaintiff admits that he consented to or assumed the risk of the contact up to this point. The plaintiff, however, contends that he did not consent to being ‘forearmed’ after the initial contact occurred.”
The court continued that “such a segmenting analysis is … improper under the facts of this case. … The plaintiff assumed the risk or consented to the entire contact between he and the defendant.”
Addressing the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the court found that while the first requisite element for such a claim — conduct complained of must be intentional or reckless – was met, the plaintiff failed to satisfy the second requirement, that the conduct was “so outrageous that it is not tolerated by a civilized society.”
Further, the plaintiff argued that the circumstances in the instant case were similar to that of Alexander v. Newman, a police brutality case. “In Alexander, the plaintiff suffered an unprovoked beating at the hands of two police officers. In all, the plaintiff was hit approximately ten times with a sap. The court found that such conduct was ‘so outrageous that a civilized society would find it intolerable’ and thus the plaintiff was able to sustain a claim for IIED. Here, the Plaintiff argues that he was ‘slugged‘ without provocation because the Defendant was “mad, angry, upset, and frustrated” by essentially the score of the game.
“As a general matter, the court notes that a police brutality case involving an unprovoked beating is not analogous to the circumstances here. In the instant case, the plaintiff was a spectator at a basketball game when he was run into by a player attempting to keep the ball in play. The plaintiff was forearmed once in the chest, as opposed to struck ten times with a sap. The court finds that conduct such as here is not sufficiently outrageous to warrant a claim for IIED.”
Betty Geeslin, As Personal Representative of The Estate of Bill Geeslin, Deceased v. Kobe Bryant; W.D. Tenn; No. 06-2768-STA, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56994; 6/9/10
Attorneys or Record: (for plaintiffs) Robert L. Coleman, Lead Attorney, Reid Burge Prevallet & Coleman, Blytheville, AR. (for defendant) Robert L. Sullivan, LEAD ATTORNEY, LOEB & LOEB, LLP, Nashville, TN.


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