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What is a famous intentional infliction of emotional distress case involving Hustler Magazine?

In 1983, pornography publisher Larry Flynt lampooned the Reverend Jerry Falwell in his Hustler Magazine. Hustler wrote a fake advertisement based on actual Campari Liquor ads, featuring celebrities talking about their "first times"—the first time they tasted Campari liquor with the obvious double entendre of their first sexual experience.

The Hustler piece entitled "Jerry Falwell talks about his first time" said that Falwell's first time was with his mother in an outhouse. The ad did not contain a disclaimer in small language at the bottom of the page that read: "ad parody—not to be taken seriously." The ad outraged Falwell, the president of the Moral Majority and a nationally known televangelist. Falwell sued Flynt in federal court under three tort theories—invasion of privacy, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The judge threw out the invasion of privacy claim, but the lawsuit proceeded on the libel and infliction of emotional distress claims. A federal jury rejected the libel claim but awarded Falwell $200,000 on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claims. A federal appeals court affirmed the jury verdict, setting the stage for the United States Supreme Court.

In February 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988), ruling that Falwell could not establish intentional infliction of emotional distress because the ad could not be interpreted as stating actual facts about Jerry Falwell. In his opinion for the Court, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist compared the Hustler ad to political cartoons satirizing a broad range of public officials. Rehnquist warned the outrageousness was too subjective a standard when imposing liability on speech about public figures such as Jerry Falwell.

Rehnquist wrote: "'Outrageousness' in the area of political and social discourse has an inherent subjectiveness about it which would allow a jury to impose liability on the basis of the jurors' tastes or views, or perhaps on the basis of their dislike of a particular expression. An 'outrageousness' standard thus runs afoul of our longstanding refusal to allow damages to be awarded because the speech in question may have an adverse emotional impact on the audience."

The famous battle between Larry Flynt and Jerry Falwell shows that there is a high constitutional bar to establishing an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against a person for their speech about public affairs, public officials or public figures.

What are some other examples of intentional infliction of emotional distress?

Some examples of conduct held to constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress by courts are: subjecting an employee to sexual harassment over a long period of time; detaining a potential car buyer for four hours of extreme pressure accompanied with misrepresentations; humiliating an employee by demoting them from company vice-president to the position of janitor; planting company checks on an employee to make it appear falsely that the person was stealing from the company; refusing to release the body of a widow's husband because she decided to seek services from another funeral home; and accusing a customer of shoplifting and then pummeling the person.

Is there a tort that you can use or sue under if someone files false criminal charges against you?

Yes, the tort of malicious prosecution may provide you with redress if someone files false criminal charges against you. If a tortfeasor files false criminal charges, has no probable cause and acted out an improper motive, then the tortfeasor has committed the tort of malicious prosecution.

Unfortunately, some parents will file false legal actions against their former spouse in order to obtain an advantage in the child custody arena. The difficulty for someone suing for malicious prosecution is they have to show that the other person acted without probable cause. The person also has to prevail in the underlying criminal action. This means that if someone files false criminal charges

If you are attacked, you have the right to defend yourself without fear of being found guilty of assault if you are justified in your actions. Laws about using deadly force can vary from state to state, however (iStock).

If you are attacked, you have the right to defend yourself without fear of being found guilty of assault if you are justified in your actions. Laws about using deadly force can vary from state to state, however (iStock).

against you but you plead guilty to avoid the hassle of going to trial, you forfeit your right to sue for malicious prosecution.

 
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