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Mitchell v. Giambruno - 2006 NY Slip Op 9673, 35 A.D.3d 1040, 826 N.Y.S.2d 788 (App. Div.)

Rule:

It is well settled that in a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must plead and prove four elements: (1) extreme and outrageous conduct; (2) the intentional or reckless nature of such conduct; (3) a causal relationship between the conduct and the resulting injury; and (4) severe emotional distress.

Although insulting language intended to denigrate a person may not, in and of itself, rise to the required level of extreme and outrageous conduct, liability may be premised on such expressions where defendants' campaign of harassment and intimidation is constant.

Facts:

Interaction between plaintiffs Mitchell and Mesack, a same-sex couple, and defendants Giambruno began as a result of a boundary line dispute. The dispute escalated and a criminal trespass complaint was filed by the defendants Giambruno against plaintiffs. For two years, defendants conducted what can only be characterized as a relentless campaign of lewd comments and intimidation directed at plaintiffs. The act that triggered this action occurred when defendants constructed two mock grave sites on the property directly facing plaintiffs' home, which created a fear in plaintiffs that the graves were intended for them. Plaintiffs filed a case against defendants, accusing the latter of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury decided in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded them money judgments. Defendants appealed, arguing that plaintiffs' trial evidence was insufficient to support the alleged cause of action. More specifically, defendants argued that plaintiffs failed to prove a causal connection between the conduct and plaintiffs' illnesses because plaintiffs neither asked the medical witness for an opinion concerning causation nor other alleged stressors in plaintiffs' lives.

Issue:

Was plaintiffs' evidence sufficient to prove that defendants, through their extreme and outrageous conduct, intentionally inflicted emotional distress?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that there were sufficient pieces of evidence proved by the plaintiffs to support the jury’s decision. The Court concluded that the first two elements of the cause of action have been proven, i.e., that the conduct of the defendants was extreme, outrageous and intentional. The issue was on the element of causal connection of the complained conduct and the injury suffered. On this issue, the Court gave credence to the testimonies of the nurse and the physician presented by plaintiffs. Both testified that plaintiffs were patients in their office prior to and during the two years encompassed by defendants’ conduct. Each testified that their patients' level of anxiety increased as did the depth of their depression as they continued to complain about their neighbors reprehensible conduct directed at them, the necessity of retaining counsel, the lawsuit and the trial. The frequency with which plaintiffs sought treatment, as well as their medication to control their conditions, increased during this period. The Court also resolved that the alleged other stressors were temporarily related to the conduct of the defendants and were caused or exacerbated by them. The Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

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