Lexis Nexis - Case Brief

Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

Law School Case Brief

Poliak v. Adcock - 2002 TENN. APP. LEXIS 684 (CT. APP. SEP. 24, 2002)


The theory of provocation stems from the belief that persons should not be permitted to benefit from their own wrongful conduct. It arises in circumstances where the plaintiff's conduct is so provocative that it heats the blood or arouses the passion of a reasonable man. However, a person attempting to mitigate damages by asserting that he or she was provoked must demonstrate: (1) that the plaintiff's conduct was truly provocative; (2) that his or her response to the provocation was not wholly disproportionate to the offense offered; and (3) that not enough time had elapsed for the effect of the provocative conduct to dissipate. The courts have not laid down a definitive test for determining whether a plaintiff's actions are sufficiently provocative to mitigate a defendant's forceful reactions to them. These inquiries are fact-specific. Thus, whether the plaintiff's conduct was truly provocative and whether the defendant's response was disproportionate must be determined on a case-by-case basis in light of all the circumstances.


Defendant James M. Adcock, armed with a two-by-four, entered his daughter’s bedroom where he found his daughter’s boyfriend, Matthew Poliak lying alone on the bed. As Poliak began to arise from the bed, Adcock, without warning, struck the former with the two-by four. Adcock told Poliak that he was going to leave the house for a while and that he would kill Poliak if he was still there when he returned. Plaintiff Poliak sustained severe injuries and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Consequently, Poliak sued Adcock for assault and battery in the Circuit Court. Adcock responded by admitting that he had struck Poliak with a two-by-four, but asserted that he was provoked by Poliak and was only acting in self-defense. Poliak then moved for a partial summary judgment seeking dismissal of Mr. Adcock's affirmative defenses of provocation, self-defense, and protection of property. The trial court granted Poliak’s motion, holding that Adcock had failed to demonstrate that he would be able to provide material evidence to support his affirmative defenses. Adcock appealed.


Did defendant Adcock fail to demonstrate that he would be able to provide material evidence to support his affirmative defenses of provocation, self-defense, and protection of property?




The Court of Appeals of Tennessee affirmed the partial summary judgment foreclosing defendant Adcock's affirmative defenses as a matter of law. The Court held that Adcock’s evidence regarding the circumstances surrounding the assault could not, as a matter of law, support his affirmative defenses. According to the Court, the only conclusion that a reasonable person could draw was that Adcock had no reasonable basis to fear that Poliak was about to injure him seriously and that the attack was clearly disproportionate to the Poliak’s conduct. There was no evidence in the record to support Adcock’s claim that he was provoked into attacking Poliak with a two-by-four. The record provided no basis for concluding that Adcock was required to resort to violence to remove Poliak from his house. Thus, the Court concluded that the circumstances did not provide a justification for Adcock to use force to defend his home.

Access the full text case Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.
Be Sure You're Prepared for Class