Sufficiency Of Evidence To Establish A Claim For Severe Emotional Distress


In a per curiam decision, the Texas Supreme Court found that there was more than a scintilla of evidence regarding the severe emotional distress sustained as a result of the intention infliction of emotional distress in Deborah Morgan v. Mack Anthony, 43 S.Ct.J. 1172.

FACTS OF CASE

Deborah Morgan was traveling on U.S. Hwy 190 outside of Jasper, Texas, when she encountered car problems. Her car died on the side of the road. Eventually, she was able to restart the car but could not drive more than 5 mph. As she was traveling along the shoulder, Mack Anthony stopped to see if she needed any help with her vehicle. Mack Anthony was unknown to Ms. Morgan. Mr. Anthony came up to Ms. Morgan's vehicle on the passenger side and opened the door and asked Ms. Morgan if she needed any help. Ms. Morgan replied that she didn't need any help and that her husband was coming for her. She thanked Mr. Anthony and then tried to shut her car door but he continued to hold it open.

Mr. Anthony then made statements to Ms. Morgan to the effect that her husband probably wasn't helping her in the car department and might not be taking care of her in other departments as well. Mr. Anthony asked if he could help her in another area. Ms. Morgan stated Ano, that she was happily married and asked Anthony to please shut the door. During the exchange between Ms. Morgan and Mr. Anthony, Mr. Anthony was leaning into the car with one hand on the dashboard and stared at Ms. Morgan's legs and breasts. At one point, Mr. Anthony stepped back and Ms. Morgan was able to shut the door and lock it.

Ms. Morgan continued to have problems starting her car and when she eventually started her car again, her car would not go more than 5 mph. Mr. Anthony continued to follow Ms. Morgan, pass her and get in front of her preventing her from moving very far. When Ms. Morgan's vehicle died again, he stopped and knocked on the window and asked her if she needed him. Ms. Morgan told him to go away because he was scaring her. Mr. Anthony continued to harass Ms. Morgan by preventing her from driving or getting away. Eventually, Ms. Morgan was able to pull into a diner parking lot and go inside and tell a waitress what happened. Ms. Morgan's father came to the diner and picked her up.
Ms. Morgan reported this incident with Mr. Anthony to the police but the police declined to charge Mr. Anthony because it would just be her word against his word. Ms. Morgan then sued Mr. Anthony after the incident alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress and seeking damages not to exceed $75,000.

Mr. Anthony moved for summary judgment on the basis that there was no evidence that he acted intentionally, that his conduct was extreme or outrageous or that Ms. Morgan suffered emotional distress. Mr. Anthony's motion was granted and Ms. Morgan appealed the action to the Court of Appeals which affirmed the trial court's granting the Motion for Summary Judgment. Ms. Morgan appealed to the Supreme Court.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT EVIDENCE

In reaching its decision, the court noted that in responding to the motion for summary judgment, Ms. Morgan relied upon depositions and her answer to an interrogatory. The court held that, generally, a party cannot rely on its own answer to an interrogatory as summary judgment evidence. However, in this case, the court found that Ms. Morgan had attached her answers to interrogatories as exhibits to her deposition and, therefore, the interrogatory answer became competent summary judgment evidence when it became a deposition exhibit. Ms. Morgan had testified during her deposition that the answer to the interrogatory was correct and she was subject to cross examination about her interrogatory answer.

The court concluded that summary judgment in favor of Mr. Anthony was improper. The Court had no difficulty in concluding that there was evidence that the conduct of Mr. Anthony was so outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to be beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community. 435 S.Ct.J. at 1174-1175 Further, the court noted that there was evidence that Morgan's emotional distress was severe given the fact that she testified that during the pursuit by Anthony that he instilled a great fear and distress on her. She was also afraid that he was going to physically grab her. She testified that at the time that he was making sexual advances to her and refusing to allow her to shut her car door, she was suffering great fear, distress and emotional injury. She later sought treatment from a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a family doctor and a physician's assistant. She also testified that she suffered depression, had problems with her family, experienced nightmares and was afraid to leave home. The court concluded that there was more than a scintilla of evidence that Ms. Morgan suffered severe emotional distress. The court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to trial court for further proceedings.

ANALYSIS OF OPINION

Essentially, the court gave a general outline of what would be sufficient evidence to show severe emotional distress. Further, the court concluded that interrogatory answers, while otherwise incompetent summary judgment evidence, can be made into competent summary judgment evidence when attached as exhibits to a deposition.