Was there evidence that an actionable battery was committed, and, if so, did the two corporate defendants have to respond in exemplary as well as actual damages for the malicious conduct of defendant manager?
Yes, the action of a hotel employee in intentionally grabbing plaintiff's plate from his hand at a buffet luncheon in a club within the hotel was an actionable battery because the forceful dispossession of plaintiff's plate in an offensive manner was sufficient to constitute a battery.
LexisNexis Headnote 3: Intentional Torts, Assault & Battery To constitute an assault and battery, it is not necessary to touch the plaintiff's body or even his clothing; knocking or snatching anything from plaintiff's hand or touching anything connected with his person, when done in an offensive manner, is sufficient.
Plaintiff, a mathematician with the National Aeronautics and Space Agency, was invited to a one day professional meeting at defendant hotel. While waiting in line for a buffet-style luncheon at defendant club, which was located within the hotel, plaintiff was approached by defendant club manager, an employee of defendant hotel, who snatched the plate from plaintiff’s hand and shouted that he could not be served in the club as an African-American. Plaintiff testified that he was not actually touched and did not testify that he suffered fear or apprehension of physical injury; but he did testify that he was highly embarrassed and hurt by defendant manager’s conduct in the presence of his associates.
Plaintiff filed suit for assault and battery, seeking actual and exemplary damages. The jury found for plaintiff, but the trial court rendered judgment notwithstanding the verdict for defendants.
The forceful dispossession of plaintiff’s plate in an offensive manner was sufficient to constitute a battery, and the trial court erred in granting judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the issue of actual damages. The intentional snatching of an object from one's hand is as clearly an offensive invasion of his person as would be an actual contact with the body. To constitute an assault and battery, it is not necessary to touch the plaintiff's body or even his clothing; knocking or snatching anything from plaintiff's hand or touching anything connected with his person, when done in an offensive manner, is sufficient.
The parties stipulated that, as an employee of defendant hotel, defendant manager was manager of defendant club. The rule in Texas is that a principal or master is liable for exemplary or punitive damages because of the acts of his agent, but only if: (a) the principal authorized the doing and the manner of the act; (b) the agent was unfit and the principal was reckless in employing him; (c) the agent was employed in a managerial capacity and was acting in the scope of employment; or (d) the employer or a manager of the employer ratified or approved the act. Defendant manager was acting in the scope of employment at the time of the incident because he attempted to enforce club rules by depriving plaintiff of service. As a result, defendant hotel and defendant club were liable for exemplary damages for his malicious conduct.