Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

  1. Introduction

    Pennsylvania courts apply Restatement (Second) of Torts § 46 to claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). Pennsylvania courts strictly apply the necessary elements of an IIED claim, for instance requiring the outrageous conduct be so “outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.”1

  2. Elements

    1. (1) Extreme and outrageous conduct;

      (2) Done intentionally or recklessly;

      (3) That causes emotional distress to another;

      (4) That stress is severe.

  3. Cases

    1. Emekekwue v. Offor, No. 1:11-CV-01747, 2012 WL 1715066, at *6 (M.D. Pa. May 15, 2012)

      • Procedural posture: Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims based on statements made by defendants suggesting that Plaintiff was responsible for his wife’s death.
      • Law: Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED), IIED, libel
      • Facts: Plaintiff brought suit against Defendants, members of the Obosi Community Association of New York, Inc. (“OCA”) stemming from comments circulated among OCA members on an email chain regarding the Plaintiff’s application for death benefits from his ex-wife’s passing. The emails from OCA members, and other members of the public, argued against his receipt of death benefits and stated, “In conclusion, let’s call a spade a spade. [Plaintiff] took away Vanessa’s medical insurance which would have enabled her to continue her medical treatment at Johns Hopkins University where they were familiar with her cancer. She had no choice but to go to the State hospital in Pennsylvania. He was very proud of this and had no problems informing all and sundry how she would soon die. It’s pathetic that he wants to gain financially from her death. Please stop begging OCA and ODA to pay you for your ex-wife’s death. ENOUGH ALREADY.” Plaintiff brought suit, alleging the statements falsely imputed his ex-wife’s death to him, would lead a reader to believe that he attempted to extort money from the OCA, and that he bragged about facilitating her death. Plaintiff alleged that from these statements he and his family suffered such distress to cause them to seek counseling.
      • Outcome: The court, taking plaintiff’s allegations as true, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim of defamation, finding the context of the emails sufficiently pled the libelous statements conferred a defamatory meaning that could harm plaintiff’s reputation and lower him in the estimation of the community. The court did find, however, that plaintiff’s claim of IIED failed as even if defendant distributed the email with intent to harm plaintiff, the plaintiff had not shown the action was so extreme in degree to be outrageous. Further, the court found the average person would not find the contents of the emails “atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.” Finally, the court dismissed the claim of NIED, noting the plaintiff suffered no physical injury or threat thereof, nor did the plaintiff have a special relationship with the OCA so that the OCA owed plaintiff a special duty of care.
    2. Okane v. Tropicana Entm’t, Inc., No. CIV.A. 12-6707, 2013 WL 56088, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 3, 2013)

      • Procedural Posture: Defendant moved to dismiss the amended complaint alleging NIED and IIED based on a report concerning the Plaintiff’s schizophrenic episode in a casino.
      • Law: NIED, IIED
      • Facts: Plaintiff, suffering from a schizophrenic episode, was recorded stealing two gaming chips from a roulette table in a casino by the casino’s internal security cameras. The casino ejected plaintiff from the premises and made an “ejection report” for its internal files. The casino, after a period of nearly 5 years, wrote to plaintiff restoring plaintiff’s gaming privileges and included a notification of the existence of the ejection report. Plaintiff claimed upon the receipt of the letter plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress, and the refusal of the casino to remove the record has caused plaintiff ongoing emotional distress.
      • Outcome: The court dismissed the NIED claim, finding no evidence of a “preexisting relationship[] involving duties that obviously and objectively hold the potential of deep emotional harm in the event of breach.” The court noted, “[i]t is simply not foreseeable that a reasonable person would experience severe emotional damage from the maintenance of an internal security record of an event that, in fact, occurred” and the duty of care owed plaintiff by the casino did not provide the necessary relationship for a NIED claim. The court further found an absence of the “outrageous conduct” necessary for an IIED claim, particularly as the incident occurred and was truthful.
  4. Practice Pointers

    The standard necessary for an IIED claim is high—particularly for pleading that the conduct at issue is “outrageous.” Conduct deemed to meet this heightened threshold in the past includes a physician’s release of false information regarding a professional athlete’s diagnosis of a fatal disease, and the fabrication of records to implicate a plaintiff in a homicide.2

  1. Emekekwue v. Offor, No. 1:11-CV-01747, 2012 WL 1715066, at *6 (M.D. Pa. May 15, 2012) (quoting Hoy v. Angelone, 554 Pa. 134 (Pa.1998)). 

  2. Banyas v. Lower Bucks Hosp., 293 Pa.Super. 122, 437 A.2d 1236, 1237–38 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1981) (concerning the negligent preparation of medical records implicating plaintiff in a homicide); Chuy v. Phila. Eagles Football Club, 595 F.2d 1265, 1274 (3d Cir. 1979) (concerning false release of an athlete’s health).