Monday, September 5, 2011

Should the court have imposed sanctions in lawsuit for "bad mothering"?

Tort reformers love to claim that there are too many frivolous lawsuits filed in this country. Even though the evidence does not necessarily back up the argument, every now and then a new case comes along that helps them advance the allegation.  Here is the latest one; one that includes some laughable claims for which the lawyers representing the plaintiffs were lucky not to get disciplined.

In this case, two adult children sued their mother - whom the father had divorced - arguing that she was a bad mother. One of the lawyers for the plaintiffs was the plaintiff's own father and ex-husband of the defendant.  Among other things, one of the plaintiffs alleged that his mother told him - when he was 7 years old - that she would call the police if he didn’t buckle his seat belt, that when he went to college she did not send him a "care package" until his third year there, that she either did not send birthday cards or that, when she did, she did not send gifts and that she changed her last name when she remarried.

Based on these and other similar allegations (you really should read the opinion to get an accurate impression of the allegations), the children argued the mother's conduct constituted either intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress.  In response, the court found for the defendant and dismissed the claims finding - correctly - that the allegations simply did not support a prima facie case.  Many of the allegations, the court concluded, "consist or snide and insulting remarks" and relate to parental discipline, which are not actionable.

As the court suggests, maybe the mother was not generous or fully sensitive to the needs of her children, but that is not conduct for which the law recognizes a remedy in tort law.  A ruling in favor of the children, the court said, “could potentially open the floodgates to subject family child rearing to nonconstructive excessive judicial scrutiny and interference."

The case is called Miner v Garrity and you can read the order of the court dismissing the complaint here.

For more on the story, go to the Chicago Tribune or take a look at the coverage in Lowering the Bar - a blog dedicated to legal humor,  and to the comments by readers of the Wall Street Journal law blog - all of which either make fun of the lawyer and plaintiffs or wonder why the plaintiffs' lawyers were not sanctioned.

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