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Slocum v. Food Fair Stores of Florida

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

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Slocum v. Food Fair Stores of Florida
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    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff was a customer in Defendant’s store and asked an employee the price of an item. The employee insulted her by responding that “[i]f you want to know the price, you’ll have to find out the best way you can because “you stink to me”. Plaintiff, taken aback by the comment upon her bodily odor, brought suit forintentional infliction of emotional distress, and the trial court dismissed for failure to statea cause of action.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Mere expressions of insults or general abuse are not actionable unless it can be shown that they were intended to bring about severe emotional distress.

    Facts. Plaintiff, a customer in Defendant’s store, inquired as to the price of a certain item. The employee responded that “[i]f you want to know the price, you’ll have to findout the best way you can…” because “you stink to me”. Plaintiff brought suit for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and claimed the insulting characterization of her bodily scent led to a heart attack and exacerbated heart disease. The trial court dismissed the case for failure to state a cause of action.

    Issue. Was the trial court correct to find that the Plaintiff’s allegations were insufficient to state an independent cause of action?

    Held. Yes. The judgment was affirmed.
    – Only such conduct as exceeds all bounds permissible in society can give rise to an independent claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
    – The conduct complained of must be substantially certain to result in severe emotional distress.
    – Mere insults or general abuse do not rise to the requisite level of outrageousness to allow for recovery for infliction of severe emotionaldistress.

    Discussion. The Court recognized that a trend toward allowing causes of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress was emerging. The Court felt compelled, however, to place some limitations upon such claims. In this case, the concept of outrageousness is further defined, with the result that garden-variety insults are excluded from the conduct that can give rise to such a claim. This particular example, an insulting comment upon someone’s bodily odor, is found not to be sufficiently outrageous as to give rise to a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress.


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