Dismissal of “Bad Mothering” Lawsuit Affirmed

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Ladies and gentlemen, over the years we have seen some horrifying examples of man's inhumanity to man. Also man's inhumanity to woman, woman's inhumanity to man, and woman's inhumanity to woman, plus at least some examples of man's inhumanity to multiple women, animals attacking humans, humans bothering ostriches, and then there was the guy whose ex-wife hit him in the head with a basket of pocketknives. The events I am about to relate are perhaps more disturbing than any of these, yet still I feel the story must be told.

In Miner v. Garrity, a case resolved recently by an Illinois appellate court, Steven and Kathryn Miner accused their mother, Kimberly Garrity, of "bad mothering." They alleged that said mothering was so extremely and outrageously bad that it constituted intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Garrity and the plaintiffs' father (also named Steven Miner) were divorced in 1995 when plaintiffs were seven and four respectively. Ever since, they alleged, Garrity has been trying to retaliate and has taken her anger out on the children. "The complaint," said the court, "provides a lengthy list of the many ways in which Garrity allegedly inflicted emotional distress upon the plaintiffs," and this alleged abuse was so shocking and depraved that at this point I must ask that anyone with a delicate health condition seek a doctor's permission to proceed.

Plaintiffs alleged as follows:

  • Sometimes Garrity gave toys to Kathryn, but not to Steven.
  • Kathryn asked Garrity to take her to an auto show, but Garrity refused and took Steven instead.
  • Garrity contributed to Steven's purchase of an all-terrain vehicle, but when Kathryn asked for money for "disco dances," Garrity "engaged in bartering and haggling."
  • In 1995, Garrity told Steven to buckle his seatbelt.
  • When paying the plaintiffs' medical expenses, Garrity asked for receipts.
  • On one occasion, Garrity refused to pay half the cost of an over-the-counter skin medication.
  • Garrity sometimes forgets to send presents, and when she sends cards, she often "forgets that Steven and Kathryn are children, failing to include any type of gift in the card." (At the time the complaint was filed, they were 21 and 18 respectively.)
  • After the divorce, Garrity lived with another man, which allegedly stressed Kathryn out so much that "she gained significant weight as a result."
  • In 2007, Garrity loaned Kathryn (then 16) a car to go to Homecoming, but made her come home by midnight.
  • When Steven was in college, Garrity did not send him any care packages for five straight semesters.
  • They complained about some other bullshit too.

As the trial judge put it, "[t]he allegations set forth here amount to a failure to buy dresses, failure to take them to the auto show, failure to provide financial assistance, failure to help with homework, failure to buy presents, and other petty grievances …. In essence, the Plaintiffs are suing their mother for bad mothering." She dismissed without leave to amend.

On appeal, Plaintiffs suggested that the requirement of "extreme and outrageous conduct" should be lowered in cases where a child is suing a parent. The panel said there was no such legal standard, nor should there be, citing a case holding that freely allowing actions for mental anguish "would encourage neurotic overreactions to trivial hurts." Plaintiffs had not alleged anything truly extreme or outrageous (despite the no-gift-in-card allegations). The court affirmed.

Coincidentally (or not), Plaintiffs' father, Steven Miner, was also one of their attorneys.