Agis v. Howard Johnson Co.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtQUIRICO
Citation371 Mass. 140,355 N.E.2d 315
PartiesDebra AGIS et al. 1 v. HOWARD JOHNSON COMPANY et al. 2

Page 315

355 N.E.2d 315
371 Mass. 140
Debra AGIS et al. 1
v.
HOWARD JOHNSON COMPANY et al. 2
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.
Argued March 3, 1976.
Decided Oct. 1, 1976.

Page 316

[371 Mass. 141] Dante G. Mummolo, Boston, for plaintiffs.

John P. Ryan, Dorchester (John C. Lacy, Boston, with him), for defendants.

Before [371 Mass. 140] REARDON, QUIRICO, BRAUCHER and WILKINS, JJ.

[371 Mass. 141] QUIRICO, Justice.

This case raises the issue, expressly reversed in George v. Jordan Marsh Co., 359 Mass. 244, 255, 268 N.E.2d 915 (1971), whether a cause of action exists in this Commonwealth for the intentional or reckless infliction of severe emotional distress without resulting bodily injury. Counts 1 and 2 of this action were brought by the plaintiff Debra Agis against the Howard Johnson Company and Roger Dionne, manager of the restaurant in which she was employed, to recover damages for mental anguish and emotional distress allegedly caused by her summary dismissal from such employment. Counts 3 and 4 were brought by her husband, James Agis, against both defendants for loss of the services, love, affection and companionship of his wife. This case is before us on the plaintiffs' appeal from the dismissal of their complaint.

Briefly, the allegations in the plaintiffs' complaint, which we accept as true for purposes of ruling on this motion, Hub Theatres, Inc. v. Massachusetts Port Authority, --- Mass. ---, --- a, 346 N.E.2d 371

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(1976), are the following. Debra Agis was employed by the Howard Johnson Company as a waitress in a restaurant known as the Ground Round. On or about May 23, 1975, the defendant Dionne notified all waitresses that a meeting would be held at 3 P.M. that day. At the meeting, he informed the waitresses that 'there was some stealing going on,' but that the identity of the person or persons responsible was not known, and that, until the person or persons responsible were discovered, he would begin firing all the present waitresses in alphabetical order, starting with the letter 'A.' Dionne then fired Debra Agis.

The complaint alleges that, as a result of this incident, Mrs. Agis became greatly upset, began to cry, sustained emotional distress, mental anguish, and loss of wages and earnings. It further alleges that the actions of the defendants were reckless, extreme, outrageous and intended to cause emotional distress and anguish. In addition, the complaint[371 Mass. 142] states that the defendants knew or should have known that their actions would cause such distress.

The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Mass.R.Civ.P. 12(b) (6), 365 Mass. 755 (1974), on the ground that, even if true, the plaintiffs' allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because damages for emotional distress are not compensable absent resulting physical injury. The judge allowed the motion, and the plaintiffs appealed.

1. Our discussion of whether a cause of action exists for the intentional or reckless infliction of severe emotional distress without resulting bodily injury starts with our decision in George v. Jordan Marsh Co., 359 Mass. 244, 268 N.E.2d 915 (1971). While in that case we found it unnecessary to address the precise question raised here, we did summarize the history of actions for emotional distress and concluded that the law of the Commonwealth should be, and is, 'that one who, without a privilege to do so, by extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally causes severe emotional distress to another, with bodily harm resulting from such distress, is subject to liability . . .' (emphasis supplied). 359 Mass. at 255, 268 N.E.2d at 921. The question whether such liability should be extended to cases in which there is no resulting bodily injury was 'left until it arises,' ibid., and that question has arisen here.

In the George case, we discussed in depth the policy considerations underlying the recognition of a cause of action for intentional infliction of severe emotional distress with resulting physical injury, and we concluded that the difficulties presented in allowing such an action were outweighed by the unfair and illogical consequences of the denial of recognition of such an independent tort. In so doing, we examined the persuasive authority then recognizing such a cause of action, and we placed considerable reliance on the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 46 (1965). Our examination of the policies underlying the extension of that cause of action to cases where there has been no bodily injury, and our review of the judicial precedent[371 Mass. 143] and the Restatement in this regard, 3 lead us to conclude that such extension is both warranted and desirable. See Baldassari v. Public Fin. Trust, --- Mass. ---, ---, --- b, 337 N.E.2d 701 (1975).

The most often cited argument for refusing to extend the cause of action for intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress to cases where there has been no physical injury is the difficulty of proof and the danger of fraudulent or frivolous

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claims. There has been a concern that 'mental anguish,...

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554 practice notes
  • Wagenmann v. Adams, Nos. 86-1475
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • 4 Mayo 1987
    ...by the plaintiff was 'severe'...." Simon v. Solomon, 385 Mass. 91, 95, 431 N.E.2d 556 (1982) (quoting Agis v. Howard Johnson Co., 371 Mass. 140, 144-45, 355 N.E.2d 315 (1976)). Proof of the foregoing elements will permit recovery for "purely emotional suffering unaccompanied by ph......
  • Litif v. United States, Civil Action No. 02-11791-WGY
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • 29 Enero 2010
    ...was "severe" and of a nature "that no reasonable man could be expected to endure it." Agis v. Howard Johnson Co., 371 Mass. 140, 144-45, 355 N.E.2d 315 (Mass. 1976) (internal citations omitted). Traditionally, bystander plaintiffs, i.e., family members distressed by harm......
  • Bowles v. Keating, No. 281
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • 11 Septiembre 1979
    ...stated reason, thus rebutting the prima facie case." Wheelock College v. Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination, supra, 355 N.E.2d at 315. If the employer does produce such credible evidence, then the burden of producing evidence shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the e......
  • Ferriter v. Daniel O'Connell's Sons, Inc.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 9 Septiembre 1980
    ...decision of George v. Jordan Marsh Co., 359 Mass. 244, 268 N.E.2d 915 (1971), and was developed further in Agis v. Howard Johnson Co., 371 Mass. 140, 355 N.E.2d 315 (1976), and Dziokonski v. Babineau, 375 Mass. 555 c, 380 N.E.2d 1295 (1978). The right to recover for loss of consortium was f......
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561 cases
  • Rogers v. Okin, CA 75-1610-T.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • 29 Octubre 1979
    ...infliction of emotional distress, the court finds that defendants' conduct was not "extreme and outrageous." Agis v. Howard Johnson Co., 371 Mass. 140, ___, 355 N.E.2d 315, 318 (1976). With respect to plaintiffs' state right to privacy claim under M.G.L.A. ch. 214, § 1B, the court finds tha......
  • Salcedo v. Town of Dudley, Civil Action No. 06-40250-FDS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • 20 Marzo 2009
    ...could be expected to endure it. Quinn v. Walsh, 49 Mass.App. Ct. 696, 706, 732 N.E.2d 330 (2000), quoting Agis v. Howard Johnson Co., 371 Mass. 140, 144-45, 355 N.E.2d 315 Again, plaintiff does not discuss the claim in her memorandum in opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment.......
  • Orell v. Umass Memorial Medical Center, Inc., No. Civ.A. 00-40227-NMG.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • 29 Abril 2002
    ...it goes "beyond all possible bounds of decency and is utterly Page 70 intolerable in a civilized community." Agis v. Howard Johnson Co., 371 Mass. 140, 145, 355 N.E.2d 315 (1976). It is for the court to decide whether the defendant's conduct may be reasonably regarded as so extreme as to pe......
  • Harless v. First Nat. Bank in Fairmont, Nos. 15088
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 23 Marzo 1982
    ...(Iowa 1979); Meyer v. Nottger, 241 N.W.2d 911 (Iowa 1976); Harris v. Jones, 281 Md. 560, 380 A.2d 611 (1977); Agis v. Howard Johnson Co., 371 Mass. 140, 355 N.E.2d 315 (1976); Annot., 64 A.L.R.2d 100 The Virginia Court's definition is patterned after Section 46 of the Restatement (Second) o......
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