Court Strikes Claim for Intentional Infliction of Mental Distress

In High Parklane Consulting Inc. v. Royal Group Technologies Limited, Mr. Justice Paul Perell struck out a claim for intentional infliction of mental distress, brought by the principal of a company that was itself a plaintiff, suing for breach of contract. In his reasons, Justice Perell provides some guidance as to what is legally sufficient to sustain a pleading in which damages are sought for the tort of intentional infliction of mental distress.

In this case, the plaintiff High Parklane Consulting had a contract with the defendant, Royal Group. Under the contract, High Parklane was to act as a sales agent for Royal Group (the company was in the business of selling extruded plastic products).

As part of a restructuring of Royal Group in 2006, its independent contractors were offered contracts of employment with the company, on a “take it or leave it” basis. The employment relationship would have been much less lucrative than the former contractual relationship.

High Parklane sued for breach of contract, contending that it was an implied term of its contract with Royal Group, that the contract between the two would not be terminated without reasonable notice.

The plaintiff Sajid Lewis was the sole shareholder of High Parklane. He also sued Royal Group, claiming that the defendant knew that Lewis had “health issues” and was aware of the harm that its conduct to do to his physical and mental health.

Royal Group attacked Lewis’ claim as an abuse of process and on the basis that the pleading did not disclose a reasonable cause of action. Justice Perell rejected the first argument but accepted the second one.

Abuse of Process

Mr. Justice Perell noted that while the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Fidler v. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada limits the cases in which a claim can be brought for damages for mental distress occasioned by breach of contract, “it does not follow that it is abusive for Mr. Lewis to sue for his own emotional distress based on the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress, which tort claim is mutually exclusive from his corporation’s breach of contract claim”. He then turned to a consideration of the pleading.

Reasonable Cause of Action

His Honour concluded that the plaintiff Lewis had failed to allege facts that disclosed a cause of action for intentional infliction of mental distress. He pointed out that this tort has three elements: (1) an act or statement by the defendant that is extreme, flagrant, or outrageous; (2) the act or statement is calculated to produce harm; and (3) the act or statement causes harm. This pleading did not meet those standards.

The mere fact that Royal may have known (with certainty) that breaching its contract with High Parklane would cause mental distress to Mr. Lewis did not give the latter a right to sue:

It is trite to say that that making a living is a stressful activity and that much of life can be nasty and brutish. Tort law does not provide compensation for all stress-causing and nasty conduct that individuals may suffer at the hands of another, and the elements of the tort of intentional infliction of mental distress that the conduct must be extreme, flagrant, outrageous and calculated to caused harm are the law’s ways of narrowing the ambit of the tort.

While that right existed in theory, Lewis would have to plead facts that rose to the level of “extreme, flagrant or outrageous” and he had not done so. Accordingly, the Lewis claim was struck, with leave to amend.

In a succinct statement of what is required, Justice Perell said:

It is not enough simply to submit that the pleaded conduct is extreme, flagrant, and outrageous. Mr. Lewis must actually plead conduct that is extreme, flagrant, and outrageous, and, in my opinion, he has not yet done so.        

 In my opinion, having reviewed the case law about the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress, this conduct by Royal is not extreme, flagrant, or outrageous. Moreover, this conduct does not become extreme, flagrant, or outrageous by adding the fact that Royal knew that Mr. Lewis had suffered emotional distress and elevated blood pressure when some months earlier Royal sought his advice about restructuring its operations.

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