Turner v. General Motors Corp., 52253

Citation750 S.W.2d 76
Decision Date26 January 1988
Docket NumberNo. 52253,52253
PartiesJerry TURNER, Sr., Respondent/Plaintiff, v. GENERAL MOTORS CORP., et al., Appellant/Defendant.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)

Terrance J. Good, Lashly, Baer & Hamel, St. Louis, for appellant/defendant.

Sidney Fortus, Fortus, Anderson & Rivera, Clayton, for respondent/plaintiff.

KAROHL, Presiding Judge.

This is an appeal from a jury verdict in an action for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Following judgment based on a jury award of actual and punitive damages in favor of plaintiff, Jerry Turner, Sr., defendant General Motors appealed.

To have the right to maintain an action, plaintiff must be shown to have a justiciable interest in the subject matter of the action. Crigler v. Frame, 632 S.W.2d 94, 95 (Mo.App.1982). In order to have standing as a party, the prospective plaintiff must have an actual and justiciable interest capable of protection through litigation. Id. Any doubt concerning the jurisdiction of the trial court over the subject matter is a jurisdictional question which we must raise sua sponte if not presented at the trial court. Section 512.160.1 RSMo 1986. The circumstances surrounding this case are unfortunate. However, the pleadings and the evidence make it clear that the trial court lacked and this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.

Plaintiff, an employee of General Motors, brought suit against two defendants, Eugene Hadley, chief security officer at the General Motors Hazelwood Plant, and General Motors Corporation. Plaintiff filed a three count petition in the circuit court alleging: (I) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (II) outrageous conduct; and (III) negligent infliction of emotional distress. The case was tried to a jury and the only claim submitted was Count III, negligent infliction of emotional distress. The jury found in favor of plaintiff Turner and against defendant General Motors Corporation. Defendant Eugene Hadley was absolved of liability. Plaintiff has not cross-appealed.

Plaintiff's reliance on the negligent infliction of emotional distress cause of action was based on the following facts. On January 26, 1981, Jerry Turner, Sr., was an employee at the General Motors Parts Division Plant in Hazelwood, Missouri. That day he was working the second shift which ran from 4:00 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. His son, Jerry Turner, Jr., drove onto the company parking lot at approximately 11:30 p.m. to provide his father a ride home.

Surveillance cameras had been installed on the grounds by General Motors as a protection against theft and vandalism on the parking lot. While plaintiff's son was waiting for his father, the surveillance camera taped him in an act of masturbation. The security guard who taped the occurrence, Glenn Tompkins, thereafter approached Turner's vehicle where the subject identified himself as Jerry Turner's son and stated that he was waiting to pick up his father. Tompkins did not tell plaintiff's son what he had seen, nor that he had preserved the act on tape. When plaintiff got off work he passed by Tompkins at the exit door, but Tompkins did not mention to him what had just transpired.

The next day, the videotape of plaintiff's son was exhibited to numerous employees at the General Motors Plant. The film was shown by the defendant Eugene Hadley and by other security guards with the knowledge and consent of the plant manager. The film was exhibited in the security office to anyone interested.

Plaintiff became the target of ridicule, humiliation and insults during the entire shift, some of it by fellow workers who had not seen the tape, but had been told about it. Plaintiff endured daily harassment for three to four months and then with lessened frequency until time of trial.

Plaintiff was very emotionally distraught over the entire incident. He sought medical advice complaining of chest pains, upset stomach, nervousness and sleeplessness. His doctor prescribed Valium in increased dosages and when this did not suffice he prescribed a stronger medication. Plaintiff missed work over the incident, but had to return out of the necessity of supporting his family. Jerry Turner came to hate his job, never knowing when he would be ridiculed about his son.

The record of the proceedings below indicates the absence of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action and no motion for summary judgment on the pleadings. Similarly there were no motions by defense counsel and no sua sponte inquiry by the trial court concerning subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court and counsel for all parties evidently assumed that the petition properly stated a cause of action for which relief could be granted.

There are basically two elements required for a negligent infliction of emotional distress cause of action: (1) that "the defendant should have realized that his conduct involved an unreasonable risk of causing distress", and (2) that "the emotional distress or mental injury must be medically diagnosable and must be of sufficient severity so as to be medically significant." Bass v. Nooney, 646 S.W.2d 765, 772-73 (Mo. banc 1983); See also, Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 313(1) (1965). Looking solely at these factors one may assume, as evidently all concerned assumed, that plaintiff pleaded and proved a submissible case.

However, an even more basic requirement essential to any tort cause of action is the infringement of a legally cognizable right and the corresponding breach of a legally recognized duty. Donovan v. Kansas City, 352 Mo. 430, 175 S.W.2d 874, 882 (banc 1943), modified, 352 Mo. 430, 179 S.W.2d 108 (banc 1944), appeal dismissed 322 U.S. 707, 64 S.Ct. 1049, 88 L.Ed. 1551 (1944). The existence of a cause of action presupposes the presence as a matter of law of a right and corresponding duty as elements of a justiciable claim.

Those rights which are recognized and protected by the law encompass property rights, Smith v. Smith, 300 S.W.2d 275, 280-81 (Mo.App.1957), including contractual and business relations, Boyer v. Independence Manor Care Center, Inc., 721 S.W.2d 246, 248 (Mo.App.1986), and personal rights, including the right to enjoyment of one's reputation, see generally, Laun v. Union Electric Co. of Missouri, 350 Mo. 572, 166 S.W.2d 1065, 1071 (1942), Hester v. Barnett, 723 S.W.2d 544, 556-57 (Mo.App.1987), and the right to privacy, Sofka v. Thal, 662 S.W.2d 502, 509 (Mo.1983). Plaintiff's claim that General Motors owed him a duty not to cause emotional distress does not involve any of these rights or interests.

We emphasize, however, that there is no necessary nexus between a legal right or duty and a moral or humane right or duty. The former are the accepted bases for an action in tort. The latter are principles which are dictated by good morals and conscience but are not necessarily within the boundaries of the law.

The events which transpired at the General Motors Plant and the ridicule to which Jerry Turner was subjected were tragic and devoid of any semblance of good judgment. The conduct and remarks were callous, cruel and contemptible. Likewise, the actions of General Motors' supervisors, in allowing its security officers to exhibit with impunity to plant personnel the tape depicting plaintiff's son in...

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10 cases
  • Armstrong v. Paoli Memorial Hosp.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • 22 de dezembro de 1993
    ...(no negligent infliction of emotional distress when medical malpractice forces a mother to watch her son suffer); Turner v. General Motors Corp., 750 S.W.2d 76 (Mo.App.1988) (no negligent infliction of emotional distress after security guards filmed and then showed to co-workers an employee......
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    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
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    ...and must be of sufficient severity so as to be medically significant. Bass, 646 S.W.2d at 772-73. See also Turner v. General Motors Corp., 750 S.W.2d 76, 78 (Mo.App.1988); Pendergist v. Pendergrass, 961 S.W.2d 919, 923 (Mo.App. 1998); Thornburg v. Federal Express Corp., 62 S.W.3d 421, 427 A......
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    ...the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction is a jurisdictional question which we must raise sua sponte. Turner v. General Motors Corp., 750 S.W.2d 76, 77 (Mo.App.1988). Section 474.150 1. Any gift made by a person, whether dying testate or intestate, in fraud of the marital rights of his......
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