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In a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must show that the defendant's conduct was 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. Whether the alleged conduct is sufficiently extreme or outrageous is a question of law for the trial court.
On July 7, 2003, Kirkland entered an Earth Fare grocery store in order to return an item. According to Kirkland, the manager of the store, Warrick, called Kirkland aside to an area immediately adjacent to the checkout lane and within earshot of the other customers, and asked him to leave the store. When Kirkland asked why, Warrick accused him of sexually harassing female employees of Earth Fare and of masturbating in the men's restroom. Kirkland denied these allegations. After their encounter, Kirkland was not ejected from the Earth Fare store nor was he asked not to return to the store; instead, according to Kirkland's verified complaint, “he was unmolested as he finished the refund and then his shopping and exited Earth Fare.” Kirkland admitted that there was no physical contact between himself and any employee of Earth Fare. Kirkland filed the underlying lawsuit against Earth Fare and Warrick on June 27, 2005, more than a year after the incident occurred, alleging damage to his reputation, “extreme emotional duress and irreversible mental damage,” that the actions of appellees were “contributory to a near fatal event … that occurred in late 2003,” “loss of companionship,” “extreme unhappiness,” and near loss of life, plus punitive damages and costs. Appellees moved to dismiss the complaint. After a hearing, the trial court converted appellees' motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment and subsequently granted summary judgment in favor of appellees.
Did the trial court err in granting summary judgment to appellees as to Kirkland’s claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress?
The undisputed facts showed that Warrick, Earth Fare's store manager, confronted Kirkland concerning alleged misconduct on store property. Kirkland was allowed to explain his side of the story; and after this encounter, “he was unmolested as he finished the refund and then his shopping and exited Earth Fare.” He was not expelled from the store at that time nor was he banned from the store for the future. Warrick's conduct was not, as a matter of law, sufficiently extreme or outrageous to support a claim for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. As the Court has recently reiterated, “outrageous conduct” sufficient to justify a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress “does not include mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions, or other vicissitudes of daily living. Plaintiffs are expected to be hardened to a certain amount of rough language and to occasional acts that are definitely inconsiderate and unkind.” Even if the store manager's manner in confronting Kirkland was annoying and insensitive, there was no occasion for the law to intervene in every case where someone's feelings are hurt.