This is the last post in a series about a case that an Illinois Appellate Court dismissed recently. The plaintiffs are a brother and sister, both adults, whose parents divorced 15 years ago. They accused their mother of intentional infliction of severe emotional distress.
The court said that the plaintiffs’ complaints weren’t enough to move the case forward. Forgetting to include cash in birthday cards, neglecting to send care packages to her son in college and dickering with her daughter over how much money she could spend on homecoming did not rise to the level required under the law.
They failed to offer proof of the three elements of intentional infliction of severe emotional distress — that is, they did not show that their mother meant to cause them emotional distress, that what she did was extreme and outrageous, and that their emotional distress was severe enough to be unendurable.
The kids added an extra fillip to their argument, though. They said that the standard for a parent should be lower, because, as the court quoted, a parent has a duty “to create a safe and nurturing shelter for his or her children.” When a parent falls short, the state may step in to protect the children.
The court responded thoughtfully. The state may, indeed, step in, the panel said, under Illinois’s Juvenile Court Act of 1987. Criminal penalties are possible, too, under the Neglected Children Offense Act or if a parent fails to protect a child from abuse by a third party.
However, none of these laws applies here. The plaintiffs are not juveniles, and no criminality is alleged.
Nor is there case law to support a different standard for parents in intentional infliction of emotional distress claims. In fact, the court points out, Illinois case law supports the same standard for strangers and parents.
The court said that the mother’s behavior may have been unpleasant or unwarranted, but it did not fall outside “all possible bounds of decency.”
The children may appeal, but their decision has not yet been made public.
Chicago Tribune, “‘Bad mothering’ lawsuit dismissed,” Steve Schmadeke, Aug. 28, 2011
Appellate Court of Illinois, First Judicial District, Steven A. Miner II and Kathryn R. Miner v. Kimberly A. Garrity, Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, Aug. 23, 2011