Mayorga v. Benton

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Docket NumberA22A0316
Decision Date01 July 2022



No. A22A0316

Court of Appeals of Georgia, First Division

July 1, 2022



Luis Mayorga appeals from the trial court's order dismissing his complaint for intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence against Jim Benton d/b/a Vital Record Solutions ("Vital Records").[1] He contends that the trial court drew impermissible inferences and made erroneous legal conclusions in its ruling on his intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. With regard to his negligence claim, Mayorga asserts that the trial court should have applied the pecuniary loss exception to the impact rule. For the reasons explained below, we reverse the dismissal of his


claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress and affirm the trial court's dismissal of Mayorga's ordinary negligence claim.

On appeal, we review the trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss de novo. A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted should not be sustained unless (1) the allegations of the complaint disclose with certainty that the claimant would not be entitled to relief under any state of provable facts asserted in support thereof; and (2) the movant establishes that the claimant could not possibly introduce evidence within the framework of the complaint sufficient to warrant a grant of the relief sought. In deciding a motion to dismiss, all pleadings are to be construed most favorably to the party who filed them, and all doubts regarding such pleadings must be resolved in the filing party's favor

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Dennis v. City of Atlanta, 324 Ga.App. 659 (751 S.E.2d 469) (2013). Additionally,

it is well established that a plaintiff is not required to plead in the complaint facts sufficient to set out each element of a cause of action so long as it puts the opposing party on reasonable notice of the issues that must be defended against. And, in light of the minimal requirements of notice pleading, broad and conclusory allegations are not fatal to a plaintiff's claim at the motion-to-dismiss stage

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Hill v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. System of Ga., 351 Ga.App. 455, 468 (3) (829 S.E.2d 193) (2019).

Allegations in the Complaint

Mayorga's complaint contains the following allegations: Mayorga's 15-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, committed suicide on January 6, 2021, and Mayorga found her body; Mayorga hired Southern Cremations, who in turn hired Vital Records to produce Kaitlyn's death certificate; Mayorga is in a same-sex marriage and his husband shares the same last name; Southern Cremations had actual knowledge of Mayorga's same-sex marriage and Kaitlyn's death from suicide; Vital Records had actual or constructive knowledge of the same; Vital Records prepared a death certificate stamped "DRAFT" and "together with" Southern Cremations delivered it to Mayorga and his husband by e-mail on January 21, 2021, after 5:00 p.m.; and the e-mail was sent by a Southern Cremations employee. The body of Mayorga's complaint includes an image of a portion of the draft certificate which states: "I AM SO CONFUSED LOL - THE STEP DAD AND THE FATHER HAVE THE SAME LAST NAME?" According to Mayorga's complaint:

It was not "confusing" that Plaintiff Mayorga and his husband had the same last name. Indeed, it was plain from the information provided in
the death certificate that Mayorga was in a same sex marriage, and that Kaitlyn had two dads.... The statement "I AM SO CONFUSED LOL" was intended to, and did, make fun of Plaintiff Mayorga's sexual orientation and make light of Kaitlyn's suicide, which also impugned the home environment Mayorga provided to his daughter. It was not a joke - and certainly not funny - to Mayorga to make fun of the circumstances surrounding Kaitlyn's death or her home life.... The statement . . . subjected [Mayorga] to thoughts that his same sex marriage contributed to his daughter's depression and suicide.

The complaint stated that "Mayorga learned of the death certificate and its callous mockery of both his daughter's suicide and his same-sex marriage on January 23, 2021[,] the same day he went to retrieve Kaitlyn's ashes from Defendant Southern Cremations."

The complaint asserts that Mayorga's husband took him to the hospital in fear for his life the day after Mayorga learned about the draft death certificate. It further alleges that a medical provider wrote the following about Mayorga's admission:

The patient reports that he became suicidal shortly after finding his daughter dead. He went to pick up her ashes on Saturday, and reports that the people at the funeral home made a mockery of him being involved in a same sex marriage, instead of having empathy about his daughter's death. He reports that after that occurred, he had enough, and truly felt like ending his life, so he could be with his daughter.

On January 26, 2021, Mayorga was released from the hospital, where he incurred medical expenses totaling $11,194.50.

Mayorga's complaint sought to recover damages from Vital Records and Southern Cremations based upon negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He alleges that the defendants "acted in concert" to cause emotional distress "by making fun of his daughter's suicide and his sexual orientation and most importantly tying the two issues together because [they were] on Kaitlyn's death certificate." (Emphasis in original.) According to Mayorga, the defendants "denigrat[ed] Kaitlyn's home life and rais[ed] the question in Mayorga's mind of his own potential culpability in his daughter's suicide." His complaint specifically alleges that he "was already suffering from depression and grieving the loss of his daughter - a fact which was known or should have been known to Defendants - and Defendants' misconduct aggravated [his] existing mental and emotional condition." Finally, the complaint states that the "Defendants' actions showed wil[ ]ful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, and that entire want of care" such that punitive damages are warranted under OCGA § 51-12-5.1.

Documents Attached to the Complaint


Mayorga attached a copy of the draft death certificate to the complaint. Several information boxes on the death certificate were either incomplete or blank with a capital "X" placed inside the box. These boxes included: mother's maiden name; informant's name; father's full name; decedent's education; and disposition date. Mayorga was listed as Kaitlyn's father and his husband, Matthew Rogers Mayorga, was listed as the informant with a relationship to Kaitlyn of stepdad. In a blank space at the bottom of the death certificate, the following words appeared to the right of a capital "X" identical to that placed in several of the information boxes:


A "true and correct copy" of the e-mail was also attached to the complaint. This e-mail states in its entirety:

Here is the attachment to the revised draft with handwritten corrections.
Please look over the personal information and if there are any corrections you can e[-]mail them [to e-mail address for Southern Cremations employee]. If everything is correct you can go ahead and print it out, sign it and e[-]mail it back with Approval + Name in the subject line or you can respond to this e[-]mail saying you approve of the draft. Thank you.

The e-mail was sent to an address similar to Mayorga's husband's name. The remaining attachment to the complaint documents Mayorga's medical expenses. It shows that he received in-patient treatment from January 24, 2021 to January 27, 2021.

Procedural History

The defendants subsequently moved to dismiss Mayorga's complaint pursuant to OCGA § 9-11-12 (b) (6) for failing to state a claim. In a consolidated order, the trial court granted both motions on the pleadings without holding a hearing.[2] It reasoned that Mayorga's negligence claim failed because there was no impact and "no evidence that Defendants['] conduct was malicious, wil[ ]ful or wanton," and nothing on the face of the pleadings showed that the conduct was "directed to the Plaintiff."


In its view, "[t]he language of the document appears to be internal and shared amongst themselves and not directed towards [Mayorga]." Finally, it found that Mayorga's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim should be dismissed because the alleged conduct did not rise to the level of extreme and outrageous as a matter of law and was not directed at Mayorga.

1. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

In related enumerations of error, Mayorga contends that the trial court erred by dismissing his intentional infliction of emotional distress claim on the grounds that the alleged conduct was not sufficiently extreme or outrageous or directed at him.[3] As discussed below, we agree that Mayorga's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim survives a motion to dismiss.

Georgia has long recognized a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. However, the burden which the plaintiff must meet in order to prevail in this cause of action is a stringent one. To prevail, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) the conduct giving rise to
the claim was intentional or reckless; (2) the conduct was extreme and outrageous; (3) the conduct caused emotional distress; and (4) the emotional distress was severe. The defendant's conduct must be so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community. Whether a claim rises to the requisite level of outrageousness

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