State Rubbish Collectors Ass’n v. Siliznoff

38 Cal.2d 330 (1952).

One-Sentence Takeaway:  Threats of physical violence by a debt collector against the maker of promissory notes supported a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress because the conduct complained of went far beyond non-performance of a contract and was targeted at the individual.

Summary: Plaintiff (a private corporation) sued Defendant Siliznoff to collect on notes he had signed.  Defendant counterclaimed, alleging duress and lack of consideration, and claiming damages for emotional distress caused by Plaintiff.  In his cross-complaint, Defendant alleged that Plaintiff’s employees had threatened to beat him up, damage his trucks, and put him out of business if he did not pay the debt.

The California Supreme Court, recognizing the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), allowed recovery even though the threats probably did not relate to sufficiently imminent harm to qualify as assault.  The Court reasoned that, “a cause of action may be established where it is shown that one, in the absence of any privilege, intentionally subject[ed] another to mental suffering incident to serious threats to his physical well-being, whether or not the threats [were] made under such circumstances as to constitute a technical assault.”

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