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Reavis v. Slominski - 250 Neb. 711, 551 N.W.2d 528 (1996)

Rule:

To establish reversible error from a court's refusal to give a requested instruction, an appellant has the burden to show that (1) the tendered instruction is a correct statement of the law, (2) the tendered instruction is warranted by the evidence, and (3) the appellant was prejudiced by the court's refusal to give the tendered instruction.

Facts:

Alleging she was sexually assaulted, Mary Reavis filed a civil action against defendant alleged attacker, James Slominski. The petition stated two causes of action--one for the tort of sexual assault and one for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Slominski denied those allegations and further alleged that any contact with Reavis was consensual. At the close of Reavis' case, Slominski's motion for a directed verdict was overruled. At the close of all the evidence, Slominski renewed his motion for a directed verdict, which was again overruled. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Reavis on the sexual assault cause of action and in favor of Slominski on the intentional infliction of emotional distress cause of action. Slominski timely appealed, and Reavis cross-appealed. In his appeal, Slominski asserted that the district court erred in refusing to direct a verdict in his favor, in admitting certain evidence, in instructing the jury as it did regarding consent, in refusing to instruct the jury regarding capacity to consent and economic duress, and in failing to set aside the verdicts as inconsistent. In her cross-appeal, Reavis asserted that the district court erroneously instructed the jury on the elements of the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

Issue:

In a civil cause of action for the tort of sexual assault, did the trial court improperly refuse to issue defendant's proposed jury instruction concerning plaintiff's effective consent to the sexual relationship?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Nebraska affirmed the denial of defendant Slominski's motion for a directed verdict. However, the Court reversed the judgment entered in favor of plaintiff Reavis on her sexual assault claim and remanded. The Court held that the trial court improperly refused to issue defendant's proposed jury instruction concerning plaintiff's consent to the sexual relationship. The Court held that plaintiff's consent acted as a defense to plaintiff's allegations. The Court held that evidence concerning the ability of plaintiff to render effective consent was admitted at trial. The Court held that because the effective consent evidence was admitted, defendant was entitled to a jury instruction regarding how to evaluate plaintiff's alleged incapacity as to the effectiveness of her consent. The Court affirmed the denial of plaintiff's proposed jury instruction concerning emotional distress because the instruction was not a correct statement of law.

As for the applicable standard of review, the Court explained: When a motion for directed verdict made at the close of all the evidence is overruled by the trial court, appellate review is controlled by the rule that a directed verdict is proper only where reasonable minds cannot differ and can draw but one conclusion from the evidence, and the issues should be decided as a matter of law.

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