Davidson v. City of Westminster

32 Cal. 3d 197, 185 Cal. Rptr. 252, 649 P.2d 894 (1982)



The elements of a prima facie case for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress are as follows: extreme and outrageous conduct by the defendant with the intention of causing, or reckless disregard of the probability of causing, emotional distress; the plaintiff's suffering severe or extreme emotional distress; and actual and proximate causation of the emotional distress by the defendant's outrageous conduct. Whether treated as an element of the prima facie case or as a matter of defense, it must also appear that the defendants' conduct was unprivileged. Conduct to be outrageous must be so extreme as to exceed all bounds of that usually tolerated in a civilized community.


Plaintiff was stabbed four times by Jack Blackmun while in a public laundromat. On three earlier occasions, women had been stabbed at the same or nearby laundromats. The evening before plaintiff's stabbing, two police officers had the laundromat under surveillance when another stabbing occurred; the police chased the suspect but failed to catch him. The next evening the officers had the laundromat under surveillance for the purpose of preventing assaults and apprehending the felon. The officers were aware of plaintiff's presence in the laundromat throughout the surveillance. After about an hour of surveillance, they saw a man on the premises who closely resembled the attacker of the previous evening and, while watching him for 15 minutes, identified him as the likely perpetrator of that assault. As the officers watched, the suspect entered and left the laundromat "several times." The officers did not warn plaintiff. Eventually she was stabbed.  It is alleged that the officers "intentionally" used Yolanda as bait for the purpose of attracting the attacker and, as a proximate result of their conduct, she sustained emotional distress. Plaintiff's claim was dismissed by the trial court following defendants' general demurrer. On appeal, the court first noted that a determination as to a duty of care must be found before it considered immunity for defendants. The court then affirmed the trial court's judgment


Did plaintiff have cause of action against defendant's for intentional infliction of emotional distress?




Defendants owed no duty of care. No special relationship arose between defendants and the assailant as the visual identification of assailant from a distance created only a minimal connection. There was no special relationship between plaintiff and defendants. Defendants did not create the peril, nor was plaintiff relying on defendants for protection. The court rejected imposing a duty on police officers to warn potential victims or the general public as against public policy. The court rejected plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress because defendant's conduct was not so outrageous that it gave rise to a cause of action, nor had they intended to cause injury to plaintiff.

Click here to view the full text case and earn your Daily Research Points.