Posted On: August 31, 2011 by Mark A. Eskenazi

Infliction of Emotional Distress: The Mother of All Divorces

Appellate Court of Illinois, First Judicial District: Miner v. Garrity

It was the Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz who said “war is merely the continuation of politics by other means.” Angry ex-husband and lawyer on behalf of his children, Steven A. Miner, might say it this way: having my kids sue their mom for damages resulting from “bad mothering” is merely the continuation of divorce by other means.

Steven A. Miner II and his sister Kathryn brought suit against Kimberly Garrity (the former Mrs. Miner) for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Their claim: When they were minors, Garrity was a bad mom whose conduct was “fueled, in part, by [her] desire to retaliate against her ex-husband, toward whom she harbors great animosity.” The complaint enumerated a list of momma’s offenses over the years (pages “2” – “7” of the decision—well worth reading), which included:

The children were not treated equally at all times;
After the divorce, mom visited one child more than the other;
Mom refused to buy Kathryn a homecoming dress in 2007;
Mom failed to send Steven birthday presents for nine years;
One year she forgot Kathryn’s birthday; and, worse still,
Ms. Garrity once told her son Steven that if he didn’t buckle his seat belt “she would drive to the police station and tell the police that he would not put his seatbelt on.”

Enough maternal malfeasance to sustain a case? The former Mrs. Miner thought not.

The lower court agreed and dismissed all claims, stating,

Plaintiffs have failed to properly allege extreme and outrageous conduct on the part of the Defendant. The allegations set fourth here amount to a failure to buy dresses, failure to take them to the auto show, failure to provided financial assistance, failure to help with homework, failure to buy presents, and other petty grievances of parental attention of inadequacy. In essence, the Plaintiffs are suing their mother for bad mothering.

Bad mothering is just not actionable.

This appeal followed (and his ex-wife is harboring great animosity?!).

After considering the allegations against Ms. Garrity, the Appellate Court observed that under Illinois law, “parents have significant discretion in the upbringing of their children” and “the law is reluctant to interfere with such parental conduct...” Moreover, a parent “will not be held legally accountable in tort for every single insult or emotional slight that she might inflict upon others, only those which are ‘so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency.’”

None of Ms. Garrity’s alleged resentful child rearing regimen remotely approached that standard. Accordingly, the court held that “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.”

(If anything, such imperfect parenting is more the norm than the exception, even in the absence of a bitter divorce. If the Miner kids’ action was permitted to proceed, we would all end up in court as either plaintiffs or defendants or both.)

Case dismissed. Again.

This isn’t just a bad divorce.

It’s a divorce from reality.

And we wonder why people hate lawyers.

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