Dickens v. Puryear

302 N.C. 437, 276 S.E.2d 325 (1981)



The tort of intentional infliction of mental distress consists of: (1) extreme and outrageous conduct, (2) which is intended to cause and does cause (3) severe emotional distress to another. The tort may also exist where defendant's actions indicate a reckless indifference to the likelihood that they will cause severe emotional distress. Recovery may be had for the emotional distress so caused and for any other bodily harm which proximately results from the distress itself. 


Plaintiff victim filed suit against defendant perpetrators after the male perpetrator beat up the victim upon learning that the victim had shared sex, alcohol, and marijuana with the perpetrators' daughter. The court granted summary judgment to the perpetrators on the ground that the suit was time-barred, and the judgment was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. The victim sought review by the state's highest court. The lower court's ruling  was reversed, and the claim against the male perpetrator was remanded for further proceedings. Plaintiff victim urged that the defendant perpetrators' failure to file an answer was fatal to filing for summary judgment and that the three-year statute of limitations applied to the case because the victim's suit lay in a claim for intentional infliction of mental distress.The decision affirming summary judgment in favor of the female perpetrator was again affirmed.


Did the complaint's factual allegations and the factual showing at the hearing on summary judgment support a claim of intentional infliction of mental distress thus making the three-year statute of limitations applicable?




The court held that the perpetrators properly raised the limitations defense, but that on its merits the victim's claim was not altogether barred by the one-year statute because the factual showing indicated that the victim could prove a claim for intentional infliction of mental distress, which was governed by the three-year statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-52(5). Summary judgment was proper as against the female perpetrator as there was no showing that the victim could prove a claim against her. A party whose answer was not yet due could raise an affirmative defense before filing an answer. The victim's factual showing was such that as a matter of law it could not be concluded that the victim could not prove intentional infliction of mental distress at trial. A threat of future harm that was apparently intended to and which did inflict mental distress was actionable as an intentional infliction of mental distress.

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