Saturday, September 18, 2004

When the lawyers get involved ... (3)

From plaintiff's brief, addressing plaintiff's negligent/intentional infliction of emotional distress causes of action in Rather v. Rove (2005):

... Plaintiff further asserts that he posesses proof--not of a mere evidentiary nature, but based upon his own moral certainty--that defendant knew that plaintiff and CBS would aggressively investigate and publicize the revelations contained in the correspondence now known to have been forged, as those revelations could reasonably have been expected to damage greatly the defendant's employer's reputation and his presidential campaign. Furthermore, the revelations were so dramatic that defendant could reasonably be expected to have assumed that plaintiff and CBS would exert great efforts to cause them to receive as much public exposure as plaintiff and CBS were capable of supplying, but which ultimately caused plaintiff severe humiliation and professional embarrassment.

Longstanding precedent with striking parallels to the instant causes of action supports plaintiff. In Nickerson v. Hodges, 84 So. 37 (1920), the Louisiana Supreme Court reviewed and reversed a finding against plaintiff Carrie E. Nickerson, a 45-year-old soap drummer (saleswoman). The court described the underlying facts as follows: "There had been in the family a tradition that ... two gentlemen, who died many years ago, buried a large amount of gold coin. ... [Plaintiff] interviewed a negro fortune teller who told her that her ... relatives had buried the gold, and gave her what purported to be a map or plat showing its location."

"Defendants ... admitted that they had fixed up an old copper bucket or pot, filled with dirt and rocks, and had buried it at a point where [plaintiff] would likely dig in search of an imaginary pot of gold." (at 37)

Defendants admitted they knew plaintiff had been confined in an insane asylum 20 years earlier.

Plaintiff eventually dug up the defendants' pot and, without opening it, left it at a local bank for safekeeping. Word of her "find" spread rapidly, but apparently she was the only one who didn't know what the pot actually contained. Finally, in a well-attended ceremony, "she was calm until the package was opened and the mocking earth and stones met her view. ... She flew into a rage." (at 38)

Concluded the court: "The conspirators, no doubt, merely intended what they did as a practical joke, and had no willful intention of doing the lady any injury. However, the results were quite serious indeed, and the mental suffering and humiliation must have been quite unbearable. ... If Miss Nickerson were still living, we should be disposed to award her damages in a substantial sum, to compensate her for the wrong thus done." (at 39)

Here, likewise, plaintiff thought he indeed had unearthed his "pot of gold," figuratively speaking. And despite whatever motives defendant may have possessed (and it is highly unlikely that they were so benign as to constitute a "practical joke"), by placing those documents in plaintiff's path, and with the expectation that plaintiff would act precisely as he did, the results were quite serious--even devastating--and the mental suffering and humiliation plaintiff incurred were nearly unbearable. Plaintiff, once held in the highest esteem, is now a laughingstock both within in his profession and among the mass public ...