Torts

Created by Kimball Parker on February 08, 2016 1613

S. CT, 2010. Westboro Baptist Church has picketed military funerals to communicate its belief that God hated the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly in America’s military. The founder and his daughters were sued by Snyder on the grounds of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, and civil conspiracy following Phelps' picket at Snyder’s son’s funeral who was killed in Iraq.  The protest took place approximately 1,000 feet from where the funerals were held, and although the signs were extremely obscene, the protest was otherwise peaceful. The father did not know what the protest was about until watching the news later that night. A jury found Westboro liable for millions of dollars in punitive and compensatory damages. Westboro challenged the verdict in District Court, and they kept the judgment in tact but reduced the punitive damages award. The Supreme Court found that speech  on a matter of public concern on public space was protected under the First Amendment against tort suits, including intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Hurtful speech on PUBLIC issues is shielded to ensure that public debate is not stifled.  In dissent, Justice Alito found that the speech was not on a matter of public concern. 

Written by Andrea Swanson on January 20, 2016 2 2109
View all explanation (5)

Supporting Authority

Leichtman v. WLW Jacor Communications, Inc., 92 Ohio App.3d 232 (1994)
Link to Supporting Resource

Leichtman was an antismoking advocate who went on the WLW Bill Cunningham radio talk show to share his views about the harmful effects of smoking and second-hand smoke.  Leichtman claims that cigar smoke was intentionally repeatedly blown in his face by a talk show host and that this act constituted battery. The Supreme Court adopted the rule that “contact which is offensive to a reasonable sense of personal dignity is offensive contact” Love v. Port Clinton.   A battery is actionable regardless of monetary damages and this act did constitute a battery.  Who is responsible is in debate as respondent superior must be considered. 

Created by Andrea Swanson on January 13, 2016 2 2509

Snyder v. Phelps

Plaintiff is suing for IIED. Westboro picketed the funeral of plaintiff's son. Westboro held signs disagreeing with America's tolerance of homosexuality. SCOTUS found the issue turned on whether the speech was of public or private concern. Speech is of public concern when it can be considered as relating to any mater of political, social, or other concern to the community. If the speech is of public concern, it is protected. It is irrelevant whether the speech is inappropriate or controversial. SCOTUS found that Westboro's picketing spoke to broader public issues and was therefore shielded.
Holding: The 1st Amendment shields Westboro from tort liability for its picketing.

Created by Faizaan Bholat on January 21, 2016 1 2187