MICHELLE STOJANIK, on behalf of the Estate of and the Heirs of
the Estate of BONNIE LYNN WOODRING, Plaintiff, v. R.E.A.C.H. OF
JACKSON COUNTY, INC., Defendant
4 November 2008
Negligence–killing at abused women’s shelter–not reasonably foreseeable
Summary judgment was properly granted for defendant in an action which resulted from
the killing of a spousal abuse victim in defendant’s shelter. Plaintiff’s allegations about the prior
actions of the victim’s husband and the shelter’s safety measures were not sufficient to raise a
triable issue as to whether it was reasonably foreseeable that the victim’s husband would find and
gain access to the shelter to harm the victim.
Appeal by plaintiff from order entered 26 March 2008 by Judge
Mark Powell in Jackson County Superior Court.
Heard in the Court
of Appeals 9 October 2008.
Sellers, Hinshaw, Ayers, Dortch & Lyons, P.A., by Brett
Dressler, and Matthews & Associates, by David P. Matthews and
Jason C. Webster, for plaintiff-appellant.
Dean & Gibson, PLLC, by Rodney Dean and Leila W. Rogers, for
Michelle Stojanik, administratrix of the Estate of Bonnie Lynn
Woodring and on behalf of the Heirs of the Estate of Bonnie Lynn
Woodring (“plaintiff”), appeals from order entered, which granted
R.E.A.C.H. of Jackson County, Inc.’s (“defendant”) motion for
On 20 February 2007, plaintiff filed a complaint and alleged
Plaintiff’s complaint asserted:
(1) Bonnie Lynn Woodring (“the
-2victim”) and the victim’s son were guests at defendant’s abused
women’s shelter on 18 September 2006; (2) the victim’s husband
gained access to the shelter and killed the victim; (3) defendant
victim’s death; and (5) plaintiff and other family members have
comfort, guidance, and advice, as well as her service, protection,
care and assistance.”
On 18 May 2007, defendant answered plaintiff’s complaint and
alleged the defenses of:
(1) failure to join an indispensable
Defendant’s second defense stated:
If it is determined that the defendant
was in any negligent [sic] as alleged in the
complaint, which has been and again is denied,
then the intentional and criminal action of
[the victim’s husband] which included breaking
into a neighbors home to steal a shotgun,
evading law enforcement on outstanding arrest
warrants, breaking into the emergency shelter,
kidnapping [defendant’s] employee, threatening
[defendant’s] employee with a shotgun, taking
the [victim] hostage while at gunpoint and
ultimately shooting and killing the [victim],
all act to sever any and all causation from
any alleged negligence on the part of
[defendant] to the death of [the victim] by
superseding any negligence of the defendant
and insulates the defendant from liability for
Defendant subsequently moved for summary judgment “on the grounds
that there are no issues of material fact and that the Defendant is
entitled to summary judgment in its favor as a matter of law.”
-3Defendant tendered “all discovery which ha[d] been conducted in the
case to date” in support of its motion for summary judgment.
Defendant’s motion was heard 17 March 2008.
The forecast of
evidence at the hearing on defendant’s motion for summary judgment
tended to establish:
(1) defendant’s abused women’s shelter is
divided into two sections, a residential section and a work space
section for defendant’s employees; (2) the shelter has two wood
framed glass panel exterior doors; (3) it is defendant’s policy to
require all doors to be locked at all times; (4) the victim’s
husband entered the shelter through an unlocked door; (5) the
victim’s husband forced one of defendant’s employees into the
residential section of the shelter; (6) when defendant’s employee
refused to tell the victim’s husband where the victim was, the
victim’s husband opened “[t]he front shelter door[,]” which set off
the alarm system; (7) the victim then entered the common area to
confront her husband; and (8) the victim’s husband took the victim
outside, beat her, brought her back into the shelter, shot, and
On 26 March 2008, the trial court filed its order, which:
defendant’s motion for summary judgment on independent intervening
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is proper if the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
affidavits, if any, show that there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact and that
any party is entitled to a judgment as a
matter of law. The party moving for summary
establishing the lack of any triable issue of
A defendant may show entitlement to summary
judgment by (1) proving that an essential
non-existent, or (2) showing through discovery
that the plaintiff cannot produce evidence to
support an essential element of his or her
claim, or (3) showing that the plaintiff
Summary judgment is not appropriate where
matters of credibility and determining the
weight of the evidence exist.
Once the party seeking summary judgment makes
the required showing, the burden shifts to the
nonmoving party to produce a forecast of
evidence demonstrating specific facts, as
opposed to allegations, showing that he can at
least establish a prima facie case at trial.
We review an order allowing summary judgment
de novo. If the granting of summary judgment
can be sustained on any grounds, it should be
affirmed on appeal.
Wilkins v. Safran, 185 N.C. App. 668, 671-72, 649 S.E.2d 658, 661
(2007) (internal citations and quotations omitted).
Independent Intervening Cause
defendant’s motion for summary judgment because “a reasonable jury
-5could conclude that either the affirmative act of leaving the back
door unlocked or the negative act of failing to properly secure the
premises with a steel door was a proximate cause of [the victim]’s
Our Supreme Court has “emphasized that summary judgment is a
drastic measure, and it should be used with caution.
especially true in a negligence case in which a jury ordinarily
applies the reasonable person standard to the facts of each case.”
Williams v. Power & Light Co., 296 N.C. 400, 402, 250 S.E.2d 255,
257 (1979) (internal citations omitted).
“Summary judgment for
defendant, in a negligence action, is proper where the evidence
fails to show negligence on the part of defendant, or where
contributory negligence on the part of plaintiff is established, or
where it is established that the purported negligence of defendant
was not the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injury.”
Hale v. Power
Co., 40 N.C. App. 202, 203, 252 S.E.2d 265, 267 (citation omitted),
disc. rev. denied, 297 N.C. 452, 256 S.E.2d 805 (1979).
“Actionable negligence is the failure to exercise that degree
of care which a reasonable and prudent person would exercise under
Hart v. Ivey, 332 N.C. 299, 305, 420 S.E.2d
174, 177-78 (1992). “To recover damages for actionable negligence,
plaintiff must establish (1) a legal duty, (2) a breach thereof,
and (3) injury proximately caused by such breach.”
Petty v. Print
Works, 243 N.C. 292, 298, 90 S.E.2d 717, 721 (1956) (citation
-6“The general rule is that the intervening or superseding
negligent actor when the injury is caused by the criminal acts.”
Tise v. Yates Construction Co., 345 N.C. 456, 460, 480 S.E.2d 677,
“[I]f between the negligence and the injury there is
the intervening crime or wilful and malicious act of a third person
defendant, and could not have been reasonably foreseen by it, the
causal chain between the original negligence and accident is
Ward v. R.R., 206 N.C. 530, 532, 174 S.E. 443, 444 (1934)
(internal quotation omitted).
It is axiomatic that to establish the element
of foreseeability, the plaintiff need not
prove that the defendant foresaw the injury in
the exact form in which it occurred. The
plaintiff need only show that in the exercise
of reasonable care the defendant should have
foreseen that some injury would result from
his act or omission or that consequences of a
generally injurious nature might have been
Foster v. Winston-Salem Joint Venture, 303 N.C. 636, 642, 281
S.E.2d 36, 40 (1981) (citations omitted).
In Foster, the plaintiff sued the owners of a shopping mall
for injuries she received after being assaulted in the mall’s
303 N.C. at 638, 281 S.E.2d at 37.
In the year prior
to the assault on the plaintiff, thirty-one criminal incidents had
been reported at the mall.
Id. at 642, 281 S.E.2d at 40.
Supreme Court stated:
We cannot hold as a matter of law that the
thirty-one criminal incidents reported as
occurring on the shopping mall premises within
-7the year preceding the assault on [the]
plaintiff were insufficient to charge [the]
defendants with knowledge that such injuries
foreseeability should therefore be determined
by the jury, and the Court of Appeals erred in
affirming the trial court’s order granting
summary judgment in favor of [the] defendants.
Here, defendant’s forecast of evidence tended to establish:
(1) the victim received defendant’s Resident and Shelter Handbook,
which stated “ [y]ou will need to assist staff in determining how
dangerous your abuser may be.
If you are in danger it will be in
the best interest of you, your children and other residents and
staff to be placed in a shelter in another county[;]” (2) the
victim never advised defendant’s employees that she needed to be
transferred to a shelter in another county; (3) “in [defendant’s]
30 years, [it] ha[s] never had an abuser come on the property
previous to this [incident][;]” and (4) “[t]he majority of abusers
do it in the secrecy of their home. . . . [t]hey do not want people
outside of their home to know they are doing anything.”
Plaintiff’s forecast of evidence tended to establish: (1) the
location of defendant’s shelter is kept confidential; (2) defendant
requires all doors to be locked at all times; (3) defendant
maintained a “panic” button in its employees’ office space; (4) the
victim asked defendant’s employees for a 911 telephone; (5) the
victim’s husband had attempted to murder the victim in the past,
threatened to find her, and to “finish the job[;]” and (6) upon reentry into defendant’s shelter, the victim expressed concern about
her husband “finding [her] and trying to talk to [her].”
actions and the shelter’s safety measures in place at the time of
the victim’s murder were not sufficient to raise a triable issue as
to whether it was reasonably foreseeable that the victim’s husband
would attempt to find and gain access to the shelter to harm the
victim. See Brown v. N.C. Wesleyan College, 65 N.C. App. 579, 583,
309 S.E.2d 701, 703 (1983) (“Based upon this forecast of evidence,
we conclude that the scattered incidents of crime through a period
beginning in 1959 were not sufficient to raise a triable issue as
to whether the abduction and subsequent murder of plaintiff’s
intestate was reasonably foreseeable.”).
Plaintiff failed to
forecast evidence that the victim’s death due to her husband’s
independent intervening cause of the victim’s death.
N.C. at 532, 174 S.E. at 444.
The trial court properly granted
defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
This assignment of error
The victim’s husband’s actions could not, as a matter of law,
have been reasonably foreseen by defendant based on the parties’
defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on “[d]efendant’s
Second Defense (Independent Intervening Cause).” The trial court’s
order is affirmed.
Judges MCCULLOUGH and CALABRIA concur.