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Law School Case Brief

White v. Univ. of Idaho - 115 Idaho 564, 768 P.2d 827 (Ct. App. 1989)

Rule:

The tort of battery requires intentional bodily contact which is either harmful or offensive. The intent element of the tort of battery does not require a desire or purpose to bring about a specific result or injury; it is satisfied if the actor's affirmative act causes an intended contact which is unpermitted and which is harmful or offensive. Indeed, the contact and its result may be physically harmless. Thus, a person may commit a battery when intending only a joke, or a compliment--where an unappreciated kiss is bestowed without consent, or a misguided effort is made to render assistance.

Facts:

Professor Richard Neher was a social guest at Carol White’s home. The professor walked up behind White and touched her back with his hands in a movement described as one a pianist would make in striking and lifting the fingers from a keyboard. The contact generated unexpectedly harmful injuries, according to White, requiring the removal of a rib. The professor stated that he intentionally touched White, but his purpose was to demonstrate the sensation of this particular movement by a pianist, not to cause harm. He explained that he had used this method in teaching his piano students. White said the professor's act took her by surprise, was non-consensual, and that she found it offensive. White then brought an action against defendants Professor and his employer, the University of Idaho. The University filed a motion for summary judgment, which the District Court granted. According to the District Court, under the Idaho Tort Claims Act, a governmental entity has no liability for any claim that arose out of battery committed by an employee. White argued that because the professor did not intend to cause harm, his act constituted negligence rather than the intentional tort of battery, and as such, the University can also be held liable.

Issue:

Did Professor Neher’s intentional and unpermitted touching of social host Mrs. White constitute the intentional tort of battery rather than negligence, and therefore, excuse the professor's public university employer from any liability?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court of Appeals affirmed. According to the Court, the tort of battery required intentional bodily contact which was either harmful or offensive The intent element of the tort of battery did not require a desire or purpose to bring about a specific result or injury; it was satisfied if the actor’s affirmative act caused an intended contact which was unpermitted and which was harmful or offensive. Applying this in the case at bar, the Court held that it was undisputed that the professor intended to touch the host, though he did not intend to cause harm or injury. His lack of any specific intent to harm or injure the host was immaterial. His act caused an intended contact that was unpermitted, offensive, and, apparently, harmful. Such voluntary contact constituted the intentional tort of battery rather than negligence.

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