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Fischer v. Maloney - 43 N.Y.2d 553, 402 N.Y.S.2d 991, 373 N.E.2d 1215 (1978)

Rule:

An action may lie for intentional infliction of severe emotional distress for conduct exceeding all bounds usually tolerated by decent society. The rule is stated as follows: One who by extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another is subject to liability for such emotional distress. Liability has been found only where the conduct has been 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.

Facts:

Plaintiff Bernard Fischer is a tenant and shareholder in Southridge Cooperative, Section No. 2, Inc., a residential co-operative corporation. When the board of directors of the co-operative refused to meet with him and other tenant-stockholders, they formed a committee to be known as "Tenants Council" to obtain financial, managerial, and operational information with respect to the management and operations of the co-operative. the Tenants Council circulated a petition among all the tenant-stockholders calling for a special meeting of the stockholders for the purpose of voting to remove the entire board of directors from office. An action in defamation was brought in the name of the co-operative against Fischer charging that in the course of circulating the petition he had falsely accused the vice-president of the co-operative of having had her apartment painted at a cost of $4,000 to the co-operative. When the defamation case was dismissed, Fischer instituted the present action against the individual members of the board: the first claim, which was based on the sections 70 and 70 of the Civil Rights Law, alleged that the defamation action was commenced by defendants vexatiously and maliciously in the name of the co-operative but without its consent; the second cause of action as based on tort for intentional infliction of severe emotional distress. The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment of the defendants. it was, however, granted by the Appellate Division with regard to the first cause of action. Defendants sought further appellate review.

Issue:

1. Was the action by the co-operative commenced without proper authorization?

2. Did the plaintiff alleged a cause of action for intentional infliction of severe emotional distress?

Answer:

1. No. 2. No.

Conclusion:

1. The Court held that even if it were to be concluded that there was a failure to comply literally with the provisions of the by-laws of the corporation in the giving of notice of the meeting of the board of directors at which it was decided to commence the defamation action, the president of the co-operative authorized the action and that the action could not then be said to have been commenced or continued without the consent of the co-operative, so the tenant stated no cause of action under §§ 70 or 71.

2. The Court held that no cause of action was stated for intentional infliction of severe emotional distress because it was only claimed that the co-operative commenced the defamation action deliberately to malign, harass and intimidate the tenant, thereby intentionally inflicting great mental and emotional distress. The conduct charged, however, did not give rise to liability under intentional infliction of severe emotional distress by any proper definition. The Court modified the order of the lower appellate court to the extent of granting a summary judgment in favor of the cooperative and dismissing the action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court affirmed the order as modified.

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