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Law School Case Brief

Hakkila v. Hakkila - 1991-NMCA-029, 112 N.M. 172, 812 P.2d 1320

Rule:

One who by extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another is subject to liability for such emotional distress, and if bodily harm to the other results from it, for such bodily harm. Where such conduct is directed at a third person, the actor is subject to liability if he intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to a member of such person's immediate family who is present at the time, whether or not such distress results in bodily harm, or to any other person who is present at the time, if such distress results in bodily harm. 

Facts:

Arnold Hakkila filed for a dissolution of marriage with the wife, Peggy J. Hakkila. In response to the petition of dissolution for marriage, the wife counter-petitioned for damages arising from alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress. Judgment was entered against Arnold in the divorce proceeding and he appealed from the judgment entered against him on the tort claim and from the award of attorney's fees. Arnold contended that as a matter of public policy one spouse should not have a cause of action against the other spouse for intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

Issue:

Can one spouse have a cause of action against the other spouse for intentional infliction of emotional distress?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court rejected Arnold’s contention. The court was of the opinion that allowing a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress in a marriage was very harmful and should have been avoided. The court determined that Peggy had not proven outrage, thus it reversed her claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Peggy contended that she had to incur attorney's fees because of the obstructive tactics by the husband during the discovery proceedings. The court determined there was no evidence of misconduct during the litigation that justified the award. The court vacated the award of attorney's fee because it was predicated in part on the incorrect assumption that the dissolution proceeding required litigation of the facts necessary to establish tort liability.

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