Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Supreme Court clarifies summary judgment standard when dealing with tort of outrage

In Hansson v. Scalise Builders of South Carolina, the Supreme Court considered the application of the summary judgment standard in connection with the tort of outrage. The basis for the action was Hansson's allegations that his coworkers and supervisor constantly derided him with callous and vulgar remarks and gestures related to homosexuality. To claim outrage, a Plaintiff must show:

1) the defendant intentionally or recklessly inflicted severe emotional distress, or was certain, or substantially certain, that such distress would result from his conduct;
(2) the conduct was so ‘extreme and outrageous’ so as to exceed ‘all possible bounds of decency’ and must be regarded as ‘atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community;’
(3) the actions of the defendant caused plaintiff’s emotional distress; and
(4) the emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff was ‘severe’ such that ‘no reasonable man could be expected to endure it.’

Summary judgment was granted below but the Court of Appeals reversed. The court of appeals found that Hansson demonstrated a genuine issue of material fact regarding the element of “outrageous conduct” required for an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. The Supreme Court granted cert and reversed the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals' analysis extended only to element two of the tort and ignored elements 1, 3, and 4. Because Hansson never sought physician help, claimed only to have lost sleep at night, the Supreme Court reasoned summary judgment was proper.

Hansson failed to provide any legally sufficient evidence in this case to show that his resulting emotional distress was “severe” within the contemplation of this Court’s mental anguish jurisprudence. Assuming, without deciding, that Petitioners’ conduct was sufficiently “outrageous” to come within the ambit of intentional infliction of emotional distress, Hansson’s passing references to fairly ordinary symptoms are nonetheless insufficient to create a jury question on the damages element of his claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

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