Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
Brief Fact Summary. Wife brought suit for divorce, including a claim based no negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress. Husband claimed that interspousal tort immunity precluded recovery.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Texas courts allowed joinder of a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress to a divorce proceeding, subject to the principles of res judicata.
Facts. Sheila and William Twyman married in 1969, with Sheila filing for divorce in 1985. She amended her divorce claim to add acclaim for emotional harm without specifying whether the claim was based on negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress. She alleged that William intentionally and cruelly attempted to engage her in deviate sexual acts. The trial court awarded damages to Sheila based on her emotional harm, William appealed claiming that interspousal tort immunity precluded her recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress. While the case was pending, the Texas Supreme Court refused to recognize the tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Issue. Can a litigant bring a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress during a divorce proceeding?
Held. The joinder of the tort cause of action of intentional infliction of emotional distress should be permitted, but subject to the principles of res judicata.
The elements of the tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress consist of: 1) the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly; 2) the conduct was extreme and outrageous; 3) the actions of the defendant caused the plaintiff emotional distress; 4) the emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff was severe.
Precedent demonstrates that there is no legal impediment to bringing a tort claim in a divorce action based on either negligence or an intentional act. Several states have held that the tort case must be litigated separately, while others require joinder. This Court finds that the best approach should be to allow joinder to fall within the sound discretion of the trial judge, encouraging joinder when feasible. This would avoid two trials and settle all matters in one suit.
It is imperative when the actions are tried together to not permit the awarding of double recovery. Therefore, a spouse should not recover tort damages and a disproportionate division of the community estate based on the same conduct.
In the present case Sheila cannot recover on the facts made by the trial court due to the change in law disallowing claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress. In the interest of justice this case should be remanded so that an intentional infliction claim can be made.
Dissent. I would not extend the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress for conduct occurring during the marriage. The sexual relationship, like many other aspects of marriage, is extremely sensitive. For the court to delve into such areas is too great an intrusion upon the marital relationship.