Adult Children Sue Mother, for Allegedly Having Been Really Mean

No, really. From Miner v. Garrity (the excerpt is long, because I wanted to include all the allegations quoted by the court); thanks to Dan Gifford for the pointer:

Adult children brought suit against mother, raising claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress as a result of “bad mothering.” Dismissal of suit for failure to state a cause of action was affirmed, since plaintiffs failed to allege conduct that was so extreme and outrageous “as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency” under the standard articulated in Public Finance Corporation v. Davis, 66 Ill. 2d 85, 90 (1976), and the Restatement (Second) of Torts §46 (1965). This was the trial court’s characterization of the allegations in their complaint, and plaintiffs adopt that characterization in their appellate brief. The father’s name is Steven A. Miner. To avoid confusion, we shall refer to him simply as “the plaintiffs’ father” or “the father.” We note parenthetically that the father is one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

Twenty-one-year-old Steven A. Miner II and 18-year-old Kathryn Miner, the children of Kimberly A. Garrity, brought suit against Garrity for “bad mothering.” Both sought damages in excess of $50,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress, as well as punitive damages. The trial court dismissed their complaint … for failure to state a cause of action. Plaintiffs now appeal. For the reasons that follow, we affirm….

Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that on November 17, 1995, when Steven was seven and Kathryn was four, Garrity and their biological father were divorced. The father was granted sole custody of Steven. The parents had joint legal custody over Kathryn, who resided at her father’s house and had visitation with her mother.

According to the complaint, ever since the divorce, Garrity has “engaged in a course of conduct which has caused both the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress to STEVEN and KATHRYN.” The complaint alleges that this conduct is fueled, in part, by Garrity’s desire to retaliate against her ex-husband, toward whom she harbors great animosity.

The complaint provides a lengthy list of the many ways in which Garrity allegedly inflicted emotional distress upon the plaintiffs, as follows:

* After the divorce, Garrity tried to obtain custody of Kathryn, arguing that the plaintiffs ought to be separated since Steven had been abused by a female adult and therefore might abuse Kathryn. (According to the complaint, this was ironic, since Garrity was the one who abused Steven in the first place. The complaint does not specify what kind of abuse Garrity allegedly committed.) Eventually, the parents agreed to the custody compromise described above.

* Garrity allegedly treated the siblings unequally in an attempt to “pit the siblings against each other.” From 1997 to 2007, Kathryn regularly visited Garrity, but Steven did not; Garrity would give clothes and toys to Kathryn during her visits, but she did not give anything to Steven. At other times, according to the complaint, Garrity would favor Steven over Kathryn. Although Kathryn asked Garrity to bring her to an auto show in 2006 and a car race in 1998, Garrity refused and instead brought Steven. When both siblings attended events with Garrity, Garrity would allegedly dote on Steven and ignore Kathryn’s requests. Garrity also allegedly favored Steven in financial matters. When Steven asked for college financial assistance, Garrity willingly contributed, but when Kathryn asked for the same, Garrity allegedly refused. Likewise, Garrity willingly contributed to Steven’s purchase of an all-terrain vehicle, but when Kathryn asked for money for homecoming, for disco dances in 2006 and 2007, and for her graduation dress in 2009, Garrity allegedly “engaged in bartering and haggling.”

* Under the terms of the divorce, Garrity is responsible for paying half of the plaintiffs’ medical expenses that are not covered by insurance. However, according to the complaint, Garrity does not trust the plaintiffs to accurately report their medical expenses but requires that they provide her with receipts.

* Garrity allegedly told Steven that she did not want to be “financially drained” by the plaintiffs.

* Garrity allegedly failed to send Christmas and birthday presents to Steven from 1996 to 2005 and failed to send presents to Kathryn in 2007. Moreover, according to the complaint, when she sends cards to them, she often “forgets that STEVEN and KATHRYN are children, failing to include any type of gift in the card.”

* Garrity allegedly refers to the plaintiffs’ father as the “Disneyland” parent.

* Since the divorce, Garrity allegedly has not taken Steven to a health or mental health care provider, and she has only taken Kathryn on two occasions.

* Prior to Garrity’s remarriage, Garrity allegedly lived together with a man. (It is not clear from the complaint whether this man is the man that she eventually married.) Garrity told Kathryn during visitation that this behavior was appropriate because they were engaged. The complaint states that Kathryn “was so stressed that she gained significant weight as a result.”

* Both Steven and Kathryn had a close relationship with their paternal grandmother and with a man whom they called “Pops.” When Garrity learned of this, she allegedly sought to destroy their relationship by refusing to allow them to be looked after by their paternal grandmother and “Pops.”

With regard to Steven in particular, the complaint alleges:

* In 1989, prior to the divorce, while Steven’s father was at work, Steven’s right arm was fractured. Garrity allegedly told different people different stories about what happened: she told the father that it occurred while Steven was at daycare (while refusing to place a claim with the daycare’s medical insurance provider), she told Steven’s paternal grandmother that it occurred while Steven was with a friend, and she later told Steven that it occurred while he was with a babysitter.

* In December 1994, Garrity asked Steven a question, and Steven replied. (The complaint does not elaborate upon what they said.) Garrity then allegedly “smacked him to the head.” Steven subsequently told his father that he hated Garrity and wanted to run away from home.

* In May 1995, also prior to the divorce, Steven gave Garrity a popsicle stick jewelry box for Mother’s Day. He subsequently asked her to give the box back. When Garrity refused, Steven took the box anyway. Garrity allegedly claimed that she had a diamond necklace in that box and called the police to report that Steven had stolen it.

* In August 1995, during a car ride, Garrity told Steven that if he did not buckle his seatbelt, she would drive to the police station and tell the police that he would not put his seatbelt on.

* When Steven was seven years old, he asked Garrity to leave him alone. From that time until the time that Steven was emancipated, Garrity had no contact with him.

* In 1996, Garrity filed an emergency motion with the circuit court seeking to have the plaintiffs’ father held in contempt of court. In that motion, she alleged that the father allowed eight-year-old Steven to “brain wash” Kathryn so that Kathryn refused to go to visitation with Garrity.

* When Steven was at college, Garrity did not send Steven any care packages until his 6th semester when she was prompted to do so by his father.

* Although Steven has sought an apology from Garrity for her actions toward him, Garrity has allegedly refused to apologize and, in fact, has frequently refused even to acknowledge that the actions in question occurred. With regard to Kathryn in particular, the complaint alleges:

* After the divorce, Garrity remarried and changed her surname, thus “causing attention” whenever she attended events at Kathryn’s school because of their different surnames.

* From 1997 to 2007, Kathryn visited Garrity’s house on weekends. Garrity did not keep allergy medications in her house, so Kathryn was, in the words of the complaint, “forced” to bring her own medications. In addition, when Garrity would pick Kathryn up after school on Fridays, she would not drive Kathryn to her father’s house so that Kathryn could pick up her weekend bag. As a result, Kathryn was “forced” to bring her weekend bag to school with her on Fridays.

* In late 1996 and/or early 1997, Kathryn wished to speak with a female mental health care professional. Garrity allegedly insisted on interviewing each of the three candidates, but took “an extraordinary amount of time” to do so. Consequently, Kathryn went back to seeing her previous mental health care professional.

* Garrity refused to purchase Kathryn a dress for homecoming in 2007. She provided an automobile, but at midnight, when Kathryn was with her friends, Garrity allegedly contacted Kathryn and made her return the automobile. Moreover, Garrity allegedly related this incident to a female priest at a church where Kathryn worked as a lay assistant. The priest then spoke with Kathryn regarding the incident. As a result, according to the complaint, Kathryn believed that God was angry with her and was unable to set foot in that church for several months because she believed that “everyone was looking at her with disfavor.”

* Despite the fact that Garrity is required to pay half of the plaintiffs’ medical expenses as described above, Garrity refused to pay half of the cost of an over-the-counter skin medication purchased by Kathryn in 2007, because it was not a prescription medication.

* Upon graduating from high school in 2009, Kathryn asked Garrity to give her certain savings bonds that Garrity “maintained dominion and control over as the secondary joint tenant or the paid on death (‘P.O.D.’) beneficiary.” Garrity sent Kathryn a text telling her that she could pick up her bonds the next day and also telling her to bring a car large enough to pick up all of her belongings. When Kathryn arrived at Garrity’s house, Garrity had packed all of Kathryn’s belongings that were at her house.

* In May 2009, Garrity asked Kathryn to attend an event at her church to bless new students who would be attending college in the fall. Kathryn attended that event, although she did not want to. However, Garrity did not attend the event.

The complaint seeks relief in four counts. Count I seeks relief for Steven’s injuries on a theory of intentional infliction of emotional distress. It contends that Garrity’s actions toward Steven were extreme and outrageous. It further alleges that, in committing these acts, Garrity intended to cause severe emotional distress to Steven and also acted in reckless disregard knowing that such distress would result from her actions. It further claims that due to Garrity’s actions, Steven has suffered actual damages, both physical and emotional. With regard to physical damages, it alleges that Steven has experienced recurring headaches as a result of Garrity smacking him on the head. With regard to his emotional damages, it states that he is seeking help from a mental health care professional and a religious care provider who is also a social worker. Count II seeks relief for Steven’s injuries on a theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress. It states that, as a parent, Garrity had a duty not to harm or injure Steven, and she breached that duty by her actions toward him, causing damages as described in count I. Steven therefore seeks judgment in excess of $50,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress and judgment in excess of $50,000 for negligent infliction of emotional distress, plus punitive damages.

Count III, which seeks relief for Kathryn’s damages on a theory of intentional infliction of emotional distress, and count IV, which seeks relief for Kathryn’s damages on a theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress, largely mirror the first two counts. However, the complaint does not allege that Kathryn has suffered physical damages, but only emotional damages. Specifically, it alleges that Garrity’s conduct has made Kathryn “nervous and upset.” It further alleges that, like Steven, Kathryn is seeking help from a mental health care professional and a religious care provider who is also a social worker. As with Steven, Kathryn seeks judgment in excess of $50,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress and judgment in excess of $50,000 for negligent infliction of emotional distress, plus punitive damages….

[W}e find that none of the allegations in plaintiffs’ complaint alluding to parental misconduct can be deemed to rise to the level of extreme and outrageous behavior “ ‘beyond all possible bounds of decency’ ” as required for recovery under Public Finance and the Restatement. A significant proportion of the allegations deal with defendant’s reluctance to incur various expenditures on behalf of her children. Defendant allegedly requires the children to provide her with receipts to document their medical expenses, of which she is court-ordered to pay half; she does not always include gifts in cards she sends to her children; she refused or was reluctant to pay for various things that Kathryn requested, from disco dances to over-the-counter skin medication to her college expenses; she did not send Steven any care packages at college until his sixth semester. Defendant also stated that she did not want to be “financially drained” by the plaintiffs. Yet plaintiffs have not provided a single case suggesting that such behavior can be considered to go beyond all possible bounds of decency.

Nor do the other allegations fare any better when measured against the high standard articulated by the Restatement. The majority of the remaining allegations consist of snide and insulting remarks (e.g., referring to the children’s father as the “Disneyland” parent, refusing to apologize to Steven for her actions, and telling Kathryn to pick up all of her belongings when Kathryn asked to pick up certain savings bonds) or actions related to parental discipline (e.g., making Kathryn return at midnight when she was out with friends at her high school homecoming, saying to Steven that she would tell the police if he did not buckle his seatbelt, and actually telling the police when he took a jewelry box belonging to her). Such alleged actions are unpleasant and perhaps insensitive, and some would arguably fall outside the realm of “good mothering,” but they are not so shocking as to form a basis for a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The same is true with regard to plaintiffs’ allegations that defendant sought custody of Kathryn after her divorce and that, at various times, she has displayed favoritism for one sibling over the other (e.g., giving toys to Kathryn and not Steven, taking Steven and not Kathryn to an auto show that Kathryn wanted to attend). Fighting a bitter custody battle after a divorce and displaying favoritism among siblings might not be exemplary parental behavior, but neither are such actions beyond all bounds of decency in society.

Plaintiffs also allege that when four-year-old Steven’s arm was fractured, defendant told different people different stories about how he received the injury in an apparent attempt to deflect fault without being sensitive to the impact that her fabrications could have on Steven’s future emotional well-being. However, they do not allege that Steven’s fractured arm was a result of abuse or any deliberate action by defendant, merely that she lied about the incident after the fact. Such alleged untruthfulness is not so “abusive and atrocious” as to be considered outrageous.

Finally, with regard to plaintiffs’ allegation that defendant refused to allow them to see their paternal grandmother and “Pops,” such action was explicitly recognized as being within the bounds of parental discretion in [an earlier precedent]..

Accordingly, considering all of the allegations in plaintiffs’ complaint as a whole, plaintiffs have failed to state a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Even where defendant’s alleged behavior is depicted at its worst, it is far from satisfying the criterion of the Restatement as articulated in Public Finance, which, as noted, must be “ ‘so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency.’ ” At its worst, it reflects behavior that is sometimes erratic, sometimes spiteful, sometimes less than fully generous or fully sensitive to the material and emotional needs of her children. But by no means does the nature and quality of this conduct fall outside “all possible bounds of decency.”

Plaintiffs contend that the issue of whether the conduct they have alleged is extreme and outrageous should be decided by the jury, not by the court. However, it is well established in intentional infliction of emotional distress cases that the judge must determine in the first instance whether a reasonable jury could consider the defendant’s conduct to be so extreme and outrageous as to permit recovery. Only where reasonable jurors could differ is the matter submitted to the jury. The case law is replete with claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress that were dismissed by the court at the pleadings stage for failure to allege sufficiently extreme and outrageous conduct….