Yesterday I commented on a story about a new case against McDonald's that has received some attention over the internet. I just had a chance to read the actual complaint so now I can comment on the claim itself.
First of all, in my comment yesterday I mentioned that I doubted an attorney would take the risk of filing a complaint that sounded so frivolous as the press was making it sound. Well, the complaint was filed pro-se by the plaintiff himself, which explains a lot.
Second, I was right that the claim is not based on the number of napkins provided but on the effects of the altercation that followed. The gist of the complaint is that the plaintiff suffered emotional distress because of the way McDonald's manager treated him and because of his language (and attitude). (The plaintiff uses some other words to try to support his claim, like "slander," "discrimination," etc but they are irrelevant because they clearly do not apply.)
Third, if the facts were different, the claim, again as I argued yesterday, would raise interesting issues regarding the reach of a possible claim for emotional distress based on the effect of race related language.
But most importantly, fourth, I say "if the facts were different" because the facts alleged are not enough to raise those issues. The facts alleged do not rise to the level necessary to support the claim.
Simply stated, I think the conduct falls below that threshold that courts usually set to consider claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Courts usually limit the cause of action to circumstances where the conduct can be characterized as "extreme and outrageous" or "beyond decency", etc., and in this case, the conduct does not reach that level.
Some people are rude, insulting and offensive toward others, but it has long been accepted that people in society have to learn to tolerate their conduct. We are not going to recognize a cause of action every time someone feels offended because of the way they are treated in a store unless the circumstances are extreme.
Assuming it is all true, as we should at this point, the conduct described in the complaint may be considered to have been offensive, but it was not extreme and outrageous. I can, no doubt, believe the plaintiff would have felt angry, embarrassed, offended and upset, but that alone is not enough to support the claim.
Thanks to Daniel Robbin for sending me a copy of the complaint!