Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hilden on Moreno v. Hanford Sentinel

FindLaw's Julie Hilden discusses the Moreno case here; it's the one in which a high school principal submitted a former student's poem (previously published on MySpace) to a local paper without her permission. The poem was not complimentary of the town in which the student had lived, and the student's family subsequently received death threats and was forced to close down its business and leave town. The student sued the paper and the principal for various invasion of privacy claims and for IIED.

The appellate court allowed the plaintiff's IIED claim to proceed but upheld the dismissal of the privacy claims. 

"The elements of a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress are (1) outrageous conduct by the defendant, (2) intention to cause or reckless disregard of the probability of causing emotional distress, (3) severe emotional suffering, and (4) actual and proximate causation of the emotional distress." ...To be outrageous, conduct must be so extreme that it exceeds all bounds of that usually tolerated in a civilized community.... However, conduct that might not otherwise be considered extreme and outrageous may be found to be so if a (1) defendant abuses a relation or position that gives him power to damage the plaintiff's interest; (2) knows the plaintiff is susceptible to injuries through mental distress; or (3) acts intentionally or unreasonably with the recognition that the acts are likely to result in illness through mental distress....

It is for the court to determine in the first instance whether the defendant's conduct may reasonably be regarded as so extreme and outrageous as to permit recovery.... In making this determination, the court employs an objective standard applied to the actual conduct, i.e., how reasonable people might view it, excluding from that category those who are either overly sensitive or callous.... But, "'[w]here reasonable men may differ, it is for the jury, subject to the control of the court, to determine whether, in the particular case, the conduct has been sufficiently extreme and outrageous to result in liability.'" ... Here, the trial court concluded that Campbell's conduct did not meet the standard of outrageousness necessary to constitute a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress as a matter of law.

In stating their claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, appellants alleged that Campbell submitted the Ode to the Coalinga Record, knowing he did not have permission to do so. Appellants further alleged that Campbell engaged in this act to punish appellants for the contents of the Ode and intended to cause them emotional distress. Appellants contend that this conduct was extreme and outrageous, especially in light of Campbell's position as Araceli's principal....

Since this appeal is from the sustaining of a demurrer without leave to amend, this court must assume the truth of appellants' allegations against Campbell. Based on these allegations, we conclude that reasonable people may differ on whether Campbell's actions were extreme and outrageous. Accordingly, it is for a jury to make this determination. Thus, the trial court erred in sustaining the demurrer to the intentional infliction of emotional distress cause of action.

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