AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability
of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel


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Emotional Distress

     A former inmate, released from custody after he was exonerated of a murder that he had previously been convicted of, filed a lawsuit asserting claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotion distress. He claimed that his conviction was caused by a number of acts of police misconduct, including the threatening of witnesses and the fabricating of evidence. All claims were dismissed as time-barred, under the theory that they accrued at the time of his arrest, rather than when he was exonerated. Reversing this result as to the emotional distress claim, a federal appeals court found that the emotional distress claim was not complete at the time of his arrest, but rather at the time of his conviction. The conviction had led to the emotional strain and mental anguish the plaintiff suffered, and this claim was therefore not time barred under the statute of limitations. Parish v. City of Elkhart, #09-2056, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 15747 (7th Cir.).
     A man found his fiancée murdered by an unknown intruder in the apartment they shared. He filed a lawsuit against the county, which operates the local 911 emergency call system, claiming that a 911 call from the murdered woman was improperly handled, and seeking damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress he allegedly suffered as a bystander. A Wisconsin intermediate appeals court ruled that the plaintiff, as the murder victim's fiancé, was not in a category of persons "who may state a bystander claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress." State law, the court reasoned, limits such claims to the relationships between the plaintiff and the victim as spouses, parent-child, grandparent-grandchild, or siblings. Estate of Zimmerman v. Dane County, #2009AP1710, 2010 Wisc. App. Lexis 565.(Unpub. Dist. 4).
     After a motorist was decapitated in a car crash, two highway patrolmen allegedly e-mailed nine "gruesome" death pictures of the body to family members and friends on Halloween for their "shock value." The pictures later were posted on the Internet. The decedent's family sued for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A California appeals court found that the trial court improperly rejected the privacy claim, since the dissemination of the photos in this manner served no legitimate law enforcement purpose or public interest, appearing to be for the purpose of "pure morbidity and sensationalism." The plaintiffs also had a valid cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress, the court ruled, since it was foreseeable that the display of the pictures would cause them "devastating trauma." Catsouras v. Calif. Highway Patrol, #G039916, 2010 Cal. App. Lexis 113 (4th Dist.).
     Almost thirty years after four men were convicted of involvement in an organized crime "gangland slaying," the F.B.I. disclosed, for the first time, that it had all along possessed reliable intelligence undercutting the testimony of a cooperating witness whose version of the murder was the basis of the convictions, but had suppressed this information. All four convictions were vacated, but by then, two of the men had died in prison, the third had been paroled, and only the fourth was still incarcerated. The two surviving men, along with the estates of the two decedents, sued the U.S. government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1346(b), 2671-2680. After a bench trial, the court found the government liable, awarding over $100 million in damages. A federal appeals court, while commenting that the damage awards were "considerably higher than any one of us, if sitting on the trial court bench, would have ordered," nevertheless upheld the awards, finding that they were not "so grossly disproportionate to the harm sustained as to either shock our collective conscience or raise the specter of a miscarriage of justice." There was no liability for malicious prosecution, the court held, as the U.S. government had not initiated the murder prosecution of the four men by the state of Massachusetts, but liability was found on the basis of a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, applicable to the U.S. government through the FTCA. Limone v. U.S., #08-1327, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 19239 (1st Cir.).
     Police officers' alleged actions in conducting a "campaign of harassment" by running a drug and prostitution ring out of the plaintiff's bottle club, and refusing to investigate illegal activities on the premises, as well as attempting to make the plaintiff and his employees stay silent about what was occurring, if true, were sufficiently extreme and outrageous to support claims, under Florida state law, for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Additionally, the club owner could have believed that he would be arrested if he did not cooperate with the officers' demands. Gallogly v. Rodriguez, No. 2D06-5118, 2007 Fla. App. Lexis 19701 (Fla. App. 2nd Dist.).
     A federal trial judge has awarded $101.7 million against the U.S. government on claims that the FBI was "responsible for the framing of four innocent men" for murder, causing them to serve decades for a crime they did not commit. Four men falsely convicted of a 1965 gangland murder, and their estates and families asserted claims against the U.S. government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1346 and 2671-2680 for malicious prosecution, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and related claims. The trial court rejected the argument that the U.S. government was entitled to immunity based on the discretionary function exception to liability in 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2680(a). The FBI's alleged conduct in knowingly allowing an informant to provide perjurious testimony in the murder trial, failing to reveal exculpatory evidence, and failing to disclose information about the actual murderers for a period of thirty years was unconstitutional and violated its own rules, the judge ruled. The court found that the FBI's conduct was the cause of the convictions, and that the conduct met the standard for intentional infliction of emotional distress, as the alleged actions violated all standards of decency and were intentional. The family members of the convicted persons were entitled to damages, under Massachusetts law for bystanders' intentional infliction of emotional distress. $1 million for each year of imprisonment was awarded to the men falsely convicted, or their estates. The minor children of the convicted men, and three of the wives of the convicted men were also awarded damages, as were an adult child of one of the men, and a wife who divorced one of the men. Two of the four men are now deceased, while two of them are still alive. Limone v. U.S., No. 02cv10890-NG, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 54224 (D. Mass.). [Editor's Note: The total damages awarded were $101.7 million].
     City was not entitled to summary judgment on a mother's claim that statements made by a police officer to her son's fellow high school students caused him emotional distress severe enough to trigger his suicide. Officer allegedly either falsely or with reckless disregard of the truth told the students that her son was one of the persons making two anonymous 911 calls which was the basis for a police raid on a teenage drinking party at a home and charges against those there for being minors in possession of alcohol. Court finds that there were disputed issues of fact both on what specifically the officer said, and whether the officer's statements were privileged. Clifford v. City of Clatskanie, No. 12002, A124955, 131 P.3d 783 (Or. App. 2006). [N/R]
     Officers' actions in arresting a man for allegedly interfering with their interview of his companion about a report of a man driving a dirt bike and carrying a gun in the vicinity was not "extreme and outrageous" as required for a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress under New York state law. Lee v. McCue, No. 04CIV.6077, 410 F. Supp. 2d 221 (S.D.N.Y. 2006). [N/R]
     Family members of murder victim could not recover damages for emotional distress allegedly suffered due to police investigators failure to pursue or to inform the department of inculpatory evidence found during the investigation. Even if these claims were true, they were insufficient to "shock the conscience" and violate the family member's due process rights. Cusick v. City of New Haven, No. 03-7890, 145 Fed. Appx. 701 (2nd Cir. 2005). [N/R]
     Police release of details about man's criminal record to the press after he was fatally shot by a police officer could not be the basis for a federal civil rights claim for harm to his reputation, nor did false statements allegedly made about the circumstances of the shooting support a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress brought by the decedent's family, although a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress brought by members of the decedent's family who witnessed the shooting was viable. The decedent did not suffer specific harm to his employment, education, professional licensing or insurance opportunities based on the statements made about him, and under New York law had no protectable liberty interest in his reputation which survived his death. Sylvester v. City of New York, No. 03 Civ. 8760, 385 F. Supp. 2d 431 (S.D.N.Y. 2005). [N/R]
     Officers' alleged actions of repeatedly striking suspect on his ribs, back and head after he fully submitted to arrest was unreasonable so that they were not entitled to qualified immunity. Alleged unprovoked beating would be sufficiently outrageous under Tennessee law to support a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Alexander v. Newman, #02-2983-DV, 345 F. Supp. 2d 876 (W.D. Tenn. 2004). [N/R]
     Police officer's failure to exhaust available administrative remedies barred his bringing a lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2675(a) against federal officers seeking emotional distress damages for their alleged failure to protect him from reprisals by targets of an investigation of police corruption. Russo v. Glasser, 279 F. Supp. 2d 126 (D. Conn. 2003). [N/R]
     Police detective was not liable for either defamation or intentional infliction of emotional distress under District of Columbia law for issuance of a press release identifying the plaintiff as having been involved in a murder, along with the arrestee's picture. The issuance of such press releases was within the scope of the duties of police investigators and it did not cause economic or physical harm to the plaintiff. Further, the release of the information involved the public's right to information and public safety. Liser v. Smith, 254 F. Supp. 2d 89 (D.D.C. 2003). [N/R]
     Family could not recover damages for loss of consortium or intentional infliction of emotional distress based on county dog warden's shooting of their pet dog. Loss of "love and affection" from death of dog was not the kind of damages family could obtain under Kentucky state law, the shooting did not take place in front of the family, and there was no evidence that defendant intended, by his actions, to inflict emotional harm. Court also refuses to find a practice of destroying impounded dogs by shooting them inhumane, leaving such issues to be decided by the legislature. Ammon v. Welty, No. 1999-CA-001759-MR, 113 S.W.3d 185 (Ky. App. 2003). [N/R]
     Arrestee's state law false arrest and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims accrued on the date of his arrest and his federal civil rights claim for arrest without probable cause accrued, at the latest, on the date he was sentenced, rather than on the date that his conviction was subsequently invalidated nine years later. Arrestee's claims were all time-barred under two year Illinois statute of limitations. U.S. Supreme Court decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), holding that a federal civil rights claim for damages attributable to an unconstitutional conviction or sentence does not accrue until the conviction or sentence has been invalidated did not apply to claims for damages resulting from false arrest not made pursuant to a warrant, the court stated, citing Snodderly v. R.U.F.F. Drug Enforcement Task Force, 239 F.3d 892 (7th Cir. 2001). Day v. Conwell, 244 F. Supp. 2d 961 (N.D. Ill. 2003). [N/R]
     Nebraska Supreme Court rejects argument by mother of cross-dressing woman that $98,223 in damages for failure of county sheriff to protect her daughter against murder by two men she accused of rape was inadequate. Court notes that mother's relationship with her daughter was "strained." Brandon v. County of Richardson, #S-01-1158, 653 N.W.2d 829 (Neb. 2002). [2003 LR Apr]
    Under District of Columbia law, a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress could be based on officers' alleged unlawful entry into and search of arrestee's home without justification, killing of his pet dog inside the residence, and failure to secure the premises after his arrest, resulting in the loss of property alleged to have a value in excess of $6,000. Amons v. District of Columbia, 231 F. Supp. 2d 109 (D.D.C. 2002). [N/R]
     Evidence supported jury's determination that state troopers' actions in arresting casino patron were extreme and outrageous in a manner allowing an award of damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Trooper allegedly allowed security officer to pepper spray arrestee while handcuffed and transported arrestee outside on cold winter night dressed only in socks and underwear. Sabir v. Jowett, 214 F. Supp. 2d 226 (D. Conn. 2002). [2003 LR Feb.]
     A claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress under Massachusetts law was not sufficiently asserted by the bare allegation that the family of a woman who an individual refused to date, the city, and the police department conspired to deprive the plaintiff of certain rights. Plaintiff also made "no rational connection" between the defendants and the alleged deprivation of his rights to obtain a firearms license or a business license for purposes of asserting a federal civil rights claim. Baxter v. Conte, 190 F. Supp. 2d 123 (D. Mass. 2001). [N/R]
     346:154 California jury awards $75,000 for emotional distress to family of deceased woman whose body was autopsied, without authorization, during "Scared Stiff" program for youthful drunk drivers. Garza v. County of Fresno, No. 644182-8, (Fresno Co., Calif., Super. Ct.)., reported in The National Law Journal, p. B3 (August 13, 2001).
     342:90 County sheriff had a duty to protect cross- dressing rape victim against threats by her assailants that they would kill her if she reported the crime; sheriff's
     "demeaning" and "accusatory" statements to victim during interview were "outrageous" as a matter of law; Nebraska Supreme Court rules that mother of murdered rape victim must be awarded full $80,000 for decedent's pain and suffering, as well as some amount for loss of companionship and orders further proceedings on emotional distress claim based on sheriff's conduct. Brandon v. County of Richardson, #S-00-022, 624 N.W.2d 604 (Neb. 2001).
     329:74 Evidence that occupants of a motor vehicle worked in the "adult entertainment industry" and that one of them was a prostitute who had worked in a legal brothel was irrelevant to issues in federal civil rights lawsuit over officer's detention of them following a vehicle stop and search of their possessions; introduction of evidence would also be prejudicial; state law emotional distress claim did not alter result. Skultin v. Bushnell, 82 F.Supp. 2d 1258 (D. Utah 2000).
     [N/R] Texas Tort Claims Act gave city immunity from claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment. Nebout v. City of Hitchcock, 71 F.Supp. 2d 702 (S.D. Tex. 1999).
     325:4 UPDATE: New York judge sets aside $15 million jury award against city in emotional distress lawsuit brought by mother who claimed post-traumatic stress from finding photo of her missing son in book of unidentified corpses in city morgue after officers allegedly delayed in allowing her to file a missing person's report after he was gone for two days. Green v. City of New York, No. 3714/92 (Sup. Ct., Kings Co., N.Y.), reported in The National Law Journal, p. B17 (August 2, 1999).
     322:152 Trial court rules that former police officer who was awarded $3 million in jury trial over First Amendment, false arrest, and emotional distress claims must accept a reduction in the award to $150,000 or else face a new trial on damages; court overturns jury's false arrest award. Mihalick v. Town of Simsbury, 37 F.Supp. 2d 125 (D. Conn. 1999).
     322:148 Arrestee awarded $30,000 in damages against officer for false arrest and intentional infliction of emotional distress was also entitled to $193,361.25 in attorneys' fees and $3,987.20 in costs, despite contingent fee agreement limiting attorneys' fees to 40% of award; $3,000 in sanctions imposed against officer for failure to reveal additional citizen complaints against him in discovery process; plaintiff did not improperly strike males from the jury, since "gender-neutral" reasons were given. Gaytan v. Kapus, 181 F.R.D. 573 (N.D. Ill. 1998).
     321:134 Claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress was stated against police chief for his alleged hiring of "violent and mentally unstable people" as officers; persons allegedly beaten by officers could pursue claim against police chief for emotional distress despite dismissal of federal civil rights claim against him. Martinez v. Wolferseder, 997 F.Supp. 192 (D. Mass. 1998).
     308:121 Mother of man awarded $15 million against city for emotional distress allegedly caused by officers' refusal to file a missing person's report for her adult son after he was gone for two days; she later learned of his death by coming across his picture in a book of unidentified corpses in city morgue. Green v. City of New York, No. 3714/92 (April 29, 1998, Sup. Ct., Kings Co., N.Y.), reported in The Natl. Law Jour., p. A11 (June 22, 1998).
     283:101 Mother's claim against state police for allegedly mishandling her daughter's remains and failing to turn remains over to her for burial were properly dismissed; intentional infliction of emotional distress claim was barred by Pennsylvania sovereign immunity and negligent infliction of emotional distress claim was not made in absence of assertion that mother witnessed a "traumatic event involving her daughter's remains" Ray v. Pennsylvania State Police, 654 A.2d 140 (Pa/Cmwlth. 1995). [Cross- reference: Defenses: Sovereign Immunity]
     265:7 Children whose father was shot and killed by police officer but did not witness shooting were unforeseeable as injured parties and could not sue officer for damages Lucero v. Salazar, 877 P.2d 1106 (NMApp. 1994).
     267:40 California county was statutorily immune from liability for emotional distress caused to rape crime victim by statements allegedly made by investigating officers to her friends and neighbors suggesting that she knew more about the rape and murder of her friend, a victim of the same offender, than she was telling Amylou R v. County of Riverside, 34 Cal.Rptr.2d 319 (Cal App. 1994).
     Allegations that officers sexually abused deaf woman and exposed other occupants of stopped car to ant bites and excessive heat stated claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress under Florida state law McCray v. Holt, 777 F.Supp. 945 (S.D.Fla 1991).
     Officers statements to children that they might never see their mother's boyfriend again, and refusal to allow children to hug and kiss boyfriend goodbye as they arrested him, did not violate due process; children could not sue for emotional injuries Pittsley v. Warish, 927 F.2d 3 (1st Cir. 1991).
     Woman allegedly called "a prostitute, a hooker" by officer questioning her in a bar awarded $15,000 for negligent infliction of emotional distress Garnett v. City of Bellevue, 796 P.2d 782 (Wash App. 1990).
     Child could not bring civil rights lawsuit over his emotional distress at witnessing officer's alleged beating of his father during arrest Archuleta v. McShan, 897 F.2d 495 (10th Cir. 1990).
     Deputy constable who altered warrant, changing name, driver's license, address, description and birth date, liable for $55,000 punitive damages to arrestee Brown v. Byer, 870 F.2d 975 (5th Cir. 1989).
     Wife has no federal claim for witnessing husband's alleged beating by police Buikema v. Hayes, 562 F.Supp. 910 (N.D.Ill. 1983).

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