by Richard W. Millar, Jr.
My in-depth (read: 10 second Internet research) led me to discover that President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day an official national holiday in 1914. That surprised me because it was always my distinct impression that Mother’s Day was created by the greeting card industry. By contrast, Father’s Day was not made a national holiday until President Nixon signed it into law in 1972, all of which shows that while America may, or may not, be a male-dominated society, mothers clearly have the better lobbyists.
Despite Mother’s Day being a national holiday, I have it from a secondary source (in the sense that since I have never been a mother, I cannot qualify as a primary source), that motherhood is not always what it is cracked up to be. There is evidence that children, who, by definition, had mothers however fleetingly, feel the same way. A highly public example of that sentiment was Christina Crawford’s 1978 tell-all, book about her mother actress Joan Crawford with a title that I unabashedly stole for this piéce de légal, Mommie Dearest.
Well we have come a long way since 1978 and tell-all books have proliferated to the extent that they have lost their luster, assuming they ever had any to begin with. Also, as you are well aware, we have become a much more litigious society to the extent that a book is no longer the preferred remedy. Now if you had a bad mother, you sue her. And get your father to be your lawyer.
As always a case in point.
Steven A. Miner II and Kathryn R. Miner, who are brother and sister and who are no longer minors, sued their mother Kimberly Garrity for intentional and negligent emotional distress as a result of “bad mothering.” Both sought damages in excess of $50,000 plus, of course, punitive damages, as if the lawsuit itself were not sufficient punishment. In 1995, when Steven was seven and Kathryn was four, their parents divorced and their father, Steven A. Miner, was granted sole custody of Steven with joint legal custody of Kathryn who nonetheless resided with her father with visitation with her mother. That, it seems, is part of the back story. Another, and perhaps integral, part of the back story is that one of the attorneys representing the children was none other than their father.
The trial court in Cook County, Illinois, dismissed their complaint for failure to state a cause of action. Undaunted, the children appealed but unfortunately for them and fortunately for those of us who are parents, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal.
So what did Ms. Garrity do to go from Mom to defendant? Well, the complaint as you might expect contains a proverbial laundry list of asserted misconduct. So fasten your seat belts and hold on tight because you are in for a frightening ride.
In retrospect, I probably should not have asked you to fasten your seatbelt because, as it turns out, that is one of the claims: “In August 1995, during a car ride, Garrity told Steven that if he did not buckle his seatbelt, she would drive him to the police station and tell the police that he would not put his seatbelt on.”
It was also alleged that under the divorce, Ms. Garrity was responsible for paying one-half of the medical expenses that were not covered and that she insisted that the kids provide her with receipts. Also, according to the complaint, she failed to send birthday and Christmas presents to Steven from 1996 to 2005 and failed to send presents to Kathryn in 2007 and when she sends cards to them, she fails “to include any type of gift in the card.” She also purportedly referred to the father (and the kids’ lawyer) as the “Disneyland” Dad, a phrase of which those of us who live in and practice in the shadow of the ersatz Matterhorn are only too familiar.
Sometimes she would give clothes and toys to Kathryn and nothing to Steven and other times she would favor Steven over Kathryn. When she was asked by Kathryn to go to an auto show in 2006 and a car race of 1998, Ms. Garrity refused and instead brought Steven. She supposedly “willingly contributed to Steven’s purchase of an all-terrain vehicle, but when Kathryn asked for money for homecoming, for disco dances in 2006 and 2007 and for her graduation dress in 2009, Garrity allegedly ‘engaged in bartering and haggling.’” For the first five semesters when Steven was at college, she did not send him any “care packages” until his sixth semester after prompting by Mr. Miner, Sr.
Ms. Garrity, apparently, did not keep her daughter’s allergy medications in her house so that Kathryn when visiting was “in the words of the complaint ‘forced’ to bring her own medications.” She also allegedly refused to pay half the cost of an over-the-counter skin medication for Kathryn because it had not been prescribed.
The complaint further claims that Ms. Garrity refused to purchase a dress for Kathryn for homecoming and while she provided a car, she forced Kathryn to bring it home at midnight.
And then there is my personal favorite: “after the divorce, Garrity remarried and changed her surname, thus ‘causing attention’ whenever she attended events at Kathryn’s school because of their different surnames.”
Well those are some of the highlights (because “lowlights” is not a word), and I am sure you get the gist. So, it seems, did both the trial and appellate courts.
I would like to say that the Court of Appeal made short work of the kids’ claims, but it spent 33 pages to do so. It held that her conduct must be considered “extreme and outrageous as a matter of law” and that the plaintiffs were not able to vault this high bar. “If extreme and outrageous conduct were no longer required for recovery in intentional infliction of emotional distress actions between parents and children, it could potentially open the flood gates to subject family child rearing to nonconstructive excessive judicial scrutiny and interference.”
In addition to winning the case, Ms. Garrity has one other thing to be thankful for, At least she was not served on Mother’s Day.
Mr. Millar is a member of the firm of Millar, Hodges & Bemis in Newport Beach. He can be reached at email@example.com.