Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Previously, we blogged about a trial court opinion that allowed a parent to seek damages for interference with custody/parental alienation.  In fact, we noted the conflicting trial court opinions released in the last year or so, one of which (in Hudson County) allowed a suit for intentional infliction of emotional distress in these matters, and another (in Morris County) which denied this relief for failing to state a claim.The Appellate Division weighed in on the Morris County case on May 3, 2010, affirming Judge Rand’s decision to dismiss the case in Segal v. Lynch.  This was a reported, thus precedential opinion.

While rejecting the trial court’s decision to dismiss the case based upon the "Heart Balm Act" which prohibited suits for interference with a marital relations, the Appellate Division nonetheless decided that the suit was barred based upon best interest and public policy considerations.  In doing so, the court held:

We acknowledge with equal force, however, that plaintiff’s cause of action raises profound questions of public policy concerning the propriety of permitting a parent to utilize a child’s loss of affection for him or her as grounds for civil liability against the other parent. On its face, such a cause of action has the potential to deteriorate into an abusive process; it can be wielded like a sword by an emotionally
distraught parent with little to no consideration of how the litigation will affect the child. Most alarming is the potential for great harm such a cause of action would pose to the child.

Our overarching consideration in all matters concerning children involved in the judicial system is "the best interests of the child." This principle is embedded in the doctrine of parens patriae, which authorizes the court to intervene when necessary to prevent harm to the child. Application of this principle to the case at hand leads us to one inexorable conclusion: plaintiff’s cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress must be barred as inimical to and irreconcilable with the best interests of the children
involved in this suit.


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In a recent trial court opinion issued by the Superior Court in Hudson County, Judge Gallipoli recognized that parents in NJ may have a right to collect damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress when their relationships with their children are poisoned by former spouses or even grandparents who partake in alienating behaviors.

In a