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Alleged Concealment of Paternity is Insufficient to Support Claim of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Carla A. Latty, et al. v. St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart, Inc.
No. 2487, Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2011

by Lydia S. Hu, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

DNA testing revealed that Appellants’ unknown father was “most probably” a deceased priest named Father Francis E. Ryan. Over fifty years ago, Appellants’ deceased mother, a church organist, allegedly had an affair with Father Ryan.

On April 1, 2009, Appellants filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart, Inc. (“the Josephite Fathers”) of which Father Ryan was a member. Among other counts, Appellants claimed intentional infliction of emotional distress. They argued that the Josephite Fathers had a legal duty to disclose the identity of their biological father and that the failure to disclose this important information caused great emotional distress. They further alleged that the Josephite Society worked to conceal the affair and concealed the fact that Father Ryan was their father.

The Josephite Society moved to dismiss the Complaint; and on November 23, 2009, the Circuit Court heard arguments on the motion. Judge M. Brooke Murdock granted the motion and dismissed the Appellants’ Complaint with prejudice.

To prevail in an emotional distress claim, a plaintiff must prove that: (1) the conduct was intentional or reckless; (2) the conduct was extreme and outrageous; (3) there was a causal connection between the wrongful conduct and the emotional distress; and (4) the emotional distress was severe. On appeal, Ms. Latty argued that the Josephite Society was liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress because the Society had knowledge of the affair and worked to conceal the information in order to avoid having to compensate her mother and the Latty family for their father’s misconduct. The Court of Special Appeals explained that even assuming Defendant Josephite Fathers intentionally concealed the identity of Father Ryan, and that the concealment constituted extreme and outrageous conduct, the Lattys’ claim fails because it does not sufficiently allege severe emotional distress.

To satisfy the fourth prong of the test, the emotional distress must be severely disabling such that no reasonable man could be expected to endure it. See at *20, citing Harris v. Jones, 281 Md. 560, 570 (1977). The Appellants allege that concealment of their father’s identity was intentional and reckless; that the conduct was extreme and outrageous; and finally that his conduct caused severe emotional distress. The intermediate appellate court explained that these bald allegations without further detail were insufficient to support the claim for emotional distress.

The Court of Special Appeals cited case law that similarly dismissed claims for failure to plead sufficient facts. In Manikhi, the plaintiff’s distress was not “severe” despite evidence that she sought professional medical treatment for constant fear and anxiety at work which ultimately forced her to change job worksites. The Court of Appeals explained in that case that there were no facts evidencing a disabling emotional response. The case was dismissed. See Manikhi v. Mass Transit Administration, 360 Md. 333, 370 (2000).

Accordingly, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed the dismissal of Appellants’ Complaint for failure to plead sufficient facts supported an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.