Snyder v. Phelps, Private Persons and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: A Chance for the Supreme Court to Set Things Right
W. Wat Hopkins
October 6, 2010
First Amendment Law Review, Vol. 9, p. 101, 2010
For nearly twenty years, the Westboro Baptist Church has been protesting at funerals with impunity. But that may change. In March, the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari in a case in which the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, on First Amendment grounds, struck down a $5 million award against the church. The plaintiff was a private person who brought an action for intentional infliction of emotional distress and other torts. Albert Snyder was not involved in a matter of public debate but was merely attempting to bury his son when he was targeted by the church. The boundaries of intentional infliction cases should be narrowly drawn, but the Snyder case falls into even the most narrow of those boundaries. It involves a private figure involved in private matters, so the heightened burden of proof the Supreme Court established for public figures in intentional infliction actions does not apply. Snyder did not bring the action because he disagreed with the message disseminated by the church, so there was no debate on matters of public concern. The Supreme Court seems primed to overrule the Fourth Circuit and sustain the verdict, as it should.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 42Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: October 7, 2010
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