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Cohen v. Smith

Citation. Cohen v. Smith, 269 Ill. App. 3d 1087 (Ill. App. Ct. 5th Dist. Mar. 24, 1995)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Patricia Cohen and her husband (Plaintiffs), filed suit against Robert Smith, nurse, and St. Joseph’s Memorial Hospital (Defendants) in the Circuit Court of Jackson County (Illinois) after Smith observed and touched her naked body in violation of her religious beliefs. The complaints alleged battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of the Right of Conscience Act, 745 Ill. Comp. Stat. 70/2 (1992). The court granted Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss. Plaintiffs appealed.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

When considering a motion to dismiss, the court must view all properly pleaded facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff; a court may only dismiss for failure to state a cause of action, based solely on the pleadings, only when it is clear that the alleged set of facts cannot be proven.


Ms. Cohen was admitted to St. Joseph’s Memorial Hospital (Hospital) to deliver her baby. She was examined and informed of the necessity for a Caesarian Section delivery. She and her husband told their doctor, who informed the hospital staff, that such a procedure was in violation of their religious beliefs as it would require Ms. Cohen to be seen naked by a male. Their doctor gave assurances that their beliefs would not be violated. During the procedure Roger Smith, a male nurse, allegedly viewed and touched Ms. Cohen’s naked body. The Plaintiffs filed suit.


Is the conduct in question sufficiently harmful and offensive to rise to the level of battery?
* Was Plaintiffs informing their physician of their religious beliefs sufficient notice to a degree that Defendants knew, or should have known, that the conduct in question would violate Plaintiff’s personal integrity, thus forming a sufficient basis for claims of battery and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress?


The battery and the intentional infliction of emotional distress counts were properly alleged, and thus the court erred in its dismissal of Plaintiffs’ causes of action. With regard to the Defendant’s having sufficient notice, the court concluded that when Ms.Cohen made her wishes known to the hospital, the latter implicitly agreed to provide her with treatment within the restrictions placed by her religious beliefs. The decision was reversed and the case remanded.


As noted in Snyder v. Turk, “A person may be held liable for battery when he or she intends to cause harmful or offensive contact and harmful or offensive contact results.” Further, courts have drawn fine distinctions between conduct that results in bodily harm and conduct that violates a plaintiff’s personal integrity. The court notes that the “application of battery the remedy offensive and insulting conduct is deeply ingrained in our legal history.” Specifically with regard to religious beliefs and medical treatment, the court observed that, while people in modern society generally accept the various intrusions on one’s privacy as a necessity, the determination of bodily integrity is ultimately the purview of the person alleging improper contact. The court in Cohen v. Smith concluded also: “The fact that the Plaintiffs hold deeply ingrained religious beliefs which are not shared by the majority of society does not mean that those beliefs deserve less protection than more mainstream religions.” Finally, quoting Justice Cardozo, the court observed: “Every human being of adult years and sound mind has the right to determine what shall be done with his own body.” Thus, when a physician violates a patient’s right of consent concerning medical procedures, that physician may be liable for damages.

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