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Buckley v. Trenton Sav. Fund Soc'y. - 111 N.J. 355, 544 A.2d 857 (1988)

Rule:

Initially, for an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly. For an intentional act to result in liability, the defendant must intend both to do the act and to produce emotional distress. Liability will also attach when the defendant acts recklessly in deliberate disregard of a high degree of probability that emotional distress will follow. Second, the defendant's conduct must be extreme and outrageous. The conduct must 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 community. Third, the defendant's actions must have been the proximate cause of the plaintiff's emotional distress. Fourth, the emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff must be so severe that no reasonable man could be expected to endure it.

Facts:

Plaintiff Joseph Buckley, Jr. was a customer of defendant Bank, Trenton Saving Fund Society. Both Buckley and his wife were drawers on the checking account. After some years, the married couple decided to uncouple, and Buckley agreed to pay his ex-wife a certain sum for support of her and their four children.  Apparently, the ex-wife tried to cash the checks, obstensively at another branch of the Bank, where she and Buckley were not known. The checks were denied, which escalated the tension that was inherent in the uncoupling.  After the Bank refused to honor checks that Buckley wrote to his ex-wife on his account with the Bank, Buckley filed an action for mental anguish and punitive damages. After a trial, the trial court dismissed plaintiff Buckley's claim for punitive damages, but submitted his claim for mental anguish to the jury, which returned a verdict for $25,000 in favor of Buckley and against Trenton Saving Fund Society (the Bank). The trial court then denied the Bank's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). Both parties sought appellate review, whcih ffirmed the dismissal of Buckley's punitive damages claim, but reversed the denial of the Bank's motion for JNOV and remanded for further proceedings. Both parties filed petitions for certification to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Issue:

Did a bank customer allege sufficient facts that he suffered severe mental distress when the Bank refused to honor checks that the customer had drawn upon his account?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of New Jersey held that plaintiff may not recover for either punitive damages or his alleged mental anguish; the Court concluded that Buckley could not recover for emotional distress because the distress caused to Buckley was not severe and did not result in bodily injury. Plaintiff's claims that he lost sleep and suffered embarrassment and aggravation did not rise to the level of severe emotional distress. Furthermore, Buckley was not entitled to punitive damages against the Bank because the dishonor of the checks was not wantonly reckless or malicious. Accordingly, the Court modified the judgment of the Appellate Division and remanded the matter to the trial court for the entry of a judgment dismissing the complaint.

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