Emotional Distress Tort Actions

Emotional Distress Tort Actions.—In Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell,1066 the Court applied the New York Times v. Sullivan standard to recovery of damages by public officials and public figures for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The case involved an advertisement “parody” portraying the plaintiff, described by the Court as a “nationally known minister active as a commentator on politics and public affairs,” as engaged in “a drunken incestuous rendezvous with his mother in an out-house.”1067 Affirming liability in this case, the Court believed, would subject “political cartoonists and satirists . . . to damage awards without any showing that their work falsely defamed its subject.”1068 A proffered “outrageousness” standard for distinguishing such parodies from more traditional political cartoons was rejected. While not doubting that “the caricature of respondent . . . is at best a distant cousin of [some] political cartoons . . . and a rather poor relation at that,” the Court explained that “'[o]utrageousness’ in the area of political and social discourse has an inherent subjectiveness about it which would allow a jury to impose liability on the basis of the jurors’ tastes or views.”1069 Therefore, proof of intent to cause injury, “the gravamen of the tort,” is insufficient “in the area of public debate about public figures.” Additional proof that the publication contained a false statement of fact made with actual malice was necessary, the Court concluded, in order “to give adequate ‘breathing space’ to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.”1070

1066 485 U.S. 46 (1988).

1067 485 U.S. at 47-48.

1068 485 U.S. at 53.

1069 485 U.S. at 55.

1070 485 U.S. at 52-53.

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Last modified: June 9, 2014