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In order to impose liability for this intentional infliction of emotional distress, the conduct complained of must be 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. The element of outrageous conduct is rigorous, and difficult to satisfy, and its purpose is to filter out trivial complaints and assure that the claim of severe emotional distress is genuine.
Decedent Deborah Roach’s body was cremated, and a portion of her remains were given to respondent Chaunce Hayden. In 1995, despite the family’s wishes, Hayden engaged in certain “on air” conversations with cable talk show host, respondent Howard Stern, about Deborah’s death and the disposition of her remains. Respondents made comments about the remains while handling various bone fragments. Appellants, decedent’s family members, filed a complaint against respondents for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lower court dismissed appellants’ complaint, finding that the element of outrageousness was not proven. Appellants sought review.
Under the circumstances, was the element of outrageous conduct satisfied as a matter of law?
The Court reversed the decision of the lower court, noting that participants in the broadcast handled the remains while making various comments about which body parts they were holding, what they looked like, and what they could do with them. Accordingly, the Court held that a jury might reasonably conclude that the element of outrageous conduct was satisfied as a matter of law since the manner in which the decedent’s remains were handled, for entertainment purposes and against the express wishes of her family, went beyond the bounds of decent behavior.