Law School Case Brief
Coon v. Joseph - 192 Cal. App. 3d 1269, 237 Cal. Rptr. 873 (1987)
Intentional infliction of emotional distress requires conduct which is especially calculated to cause and does cause the claimant mental distress of a very serious nature.
On Sept. 23, 1984, plaintiff Gary Coon and his male partner, Ervin, attempted to board a municipal bus of defendant City and County of San Francisco (City). The bus driver, defendant Michael Joseph, allegedly denied Coon's entry to the bus but allowed Ervin to enter the bus. Joseph then verbally abused Ervin and struck his face. When Coon observed the assault, he alleged that he suffered great mental and emotional distress. Coon filed an action against defendants in California state court alleging four causes of action: intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence under Civ. Code, § 2100 (duty of carriers), and violation of civil rights under Civ. Code, § 51.7 (freedom from violence). Joseph and the City demurred to the entirety of the complaint on the grounds that it failed to state any cause of action against them. After Coon's counsel advised the trial court that he elected not to amend the complaint, the court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. Coon appealed.
Can a same sex partner file a complaint on behalf of his partner?
The appellate court held that, as a matter of law, an intimate homosexual relationship between two men was not sufficiently close to permit recovery based on one witnessing a wrongful injury to the other, and thus Coon could not state a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress based on witnessing the attack on his friend, Ervin. It further held that the complaint did not state facts sufficient to provide causes of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress or violation of civil rights, since the assault against Ervin was not directed toward Coon personally. The court also held that no cause of action for negligence was stated under Civ. Code, § 2100, since Joseph had not permitted Coon to board the bus, and therefore no duty on the part of the carrier ever arose. The court held that only a parent-child or legally recognized spousal relationship was the kind of close relationship that would support a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress based on a party's witness of harm occurring to another.
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