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Cochran v. Cochran - 65 Cal. App. 4th 488, 76 Cal. Rptr. 2d 540 (1998)


The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is comprised of three elements: (1) extreme and outrageous conduct by the defendant with the intention of causing, or reckless disregard of the probability of causing, emotional distress; (2) the plaintiff suffered severe or extreme emotional distress; and (3) the plaintiff's injuries were actually and proximately caused by the defendant's outrageous conduct.


After years of antagonisms and litigation between Patricia Ann Cochran and Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr., who had lived together but never married, Patricia (with her daughter) filed yet another action against Johnnie seeking to recover against Johnnie for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Patricia alleged that Johnnie, a famous attorney who had recently been successful in defending a celebrity accused of murdering his ex-wife, had left a message on their son's answering machine that alluded to his wish to book a flight for Patricia on an airline that recently had experienced a crash with several fatalities. After hearing the message, Patricia and her daughter alleged that they experienced extreme emotional distress.  After the first amendment of their complaint, the trial court granted Johnnie's demurrer and dismissed the complaint without leave to amend. 


Did the facts pled by Patricia and her daughter state a cause of action on any available legal theory?




The Court held that they failed to state a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress because Johnnie's conduct was not outrageous. Regardless of Johnnie's intent, the alleged message was not so extreme or outrageous as to exceed all bounds usually tolerated in a civilized society, an essential element of the cause of action. Even considering the claim that this message was part of a pattern, the remarks attributed to respondent, separately or together, lacked specificity as to time, place, and context, and amounted only to peevish spleen-venting, and the steam of an irascible temper was not smoke from the fire of an actionable death threat.

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