Fisher v. Carrousel Motor Hotel, Inc.

Supreme Court of Texas, 1967.

424 S.W.2d 627.

Prosser, p. 32-33

 

Facts: The plaintiff was approached while standing with a plate.  One of the defendant’s employees snatched the plate out of his hand and made a racist remark.  The plaintiff was not touched and didn’t suffer physical injury, but was hurt emotionally.

 

Procedural Posture: The jury in the trial found for the plaintiff and awarded damages.  The trial court set aside the verdict and found for the defendants.  The Court of Civil Appeals upheld the ruling, and the plaintiff appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

 

Issue: Can a plaintiff have a cause for battery if he or she was neither touched nor in apprehension of physical injury?

 

Rule: The basis of an action for battery is the “unpermitted and intentional invasion of the plaintiff’s person and not the actual harm done to the plaintiff’s body”.

 

Analysis: The court appeals to other cases where similar situations arose in Mississippi and Texas, as well as the Restatement of Torts §18.  The rule as given in Morgan v. Loyacomo is clear in saying that “it is not necessary to touch the plaintiff’s body or even his clothing; knocking or snatching anything from the plaintiff’s body or touching anything connected with his person, when done in an offensive manner, is sufficient.”

 

The court says that “personal indignity” is the essence of battery, so it doesn’t matter whether or not there was physical contact or injury.

 

Conclusion: The court held that snatching the plate away from the plaintiff constituted battery and that the plaintiff was entitled to damages for mental suffering, “even in the absence of any physical injury”.  The court reversed the judgments of the lower courts and awarded damages to the plaintiff.

 

Notes and Questions

 

1.     Even if there hadn’t been a racial epithet used, the plaintiff still would have prevailed under this court’s reasoning.  It didn’t matter that something mean or offensive was said while the action was performed.  The action in itself was offensive.  If there had only been the racial epithet, battery would not lie because there would be no contact whatsoever and thus no invasion of the plaintiff’s person.  In the case of the doorman kicking the plaintiff’s car, it depends on whether one’s car is “customarily regarded as part of the other’s person” (according to Restatement).  It would be hard to argue that your car is part of your person when you’re not inside it or standing near it.

1.     Using the tort of battery does seem to dilute the meaning of that tort.  The plaintiff’s attorney might have chosen to attempt to sue for battery because he or she thought the plaintiff could get more money that way.  Is this “imaginative lawyering”?  That’s kind of a loaded term.  If the plaintiff deserved compensation, then you could argue the lawyer was just doing his or her best to get that compensation.  I don’t know what other remedies would be available because we have not studied them yet.  Maybe assault?

2.     The first case mentioned in referenced in Fisher.  It mirrors the situation in the present case and seems to be controlling.  The second case sounds like an extension in the law that kind of logically follows.  I would need to get a little more info.

3.     I think C would be liable to both A and B.  C is, in effect, directly harming B and “snatching” B out of A’s hands.

4.     Okay!

 

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