Paula Corbin JONES, Plaintiff,
William Jefferson CLINTON and Danny Ferguson, Defendants.
United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division.
April 1, 1998.
SUSAN WEBBER WRIGHT, District Judge.
The plaintiff in this lawsuit, Paula Corbin Jones, seeks civil damages from William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, and Danny Ferguson, a former Arkansas State Police Officer, for alleged actions beginning with an incident in a hotel suite in Little Rock, Arkansas. … The matter is now before the Court on motion of both the President and Ferguson for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure… .
This lawsuit is based on an incident that is said to have taken place on the afternoon of May 8, 1991, in a suite at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas. President Clinton was Governor of the State of Arkansas at the time, and plaintiff was a State employee with the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission (“AIDC”), having begun her State employment on March 11, 1991. Ferguson was an Arkansas State Police officer assigned to the Governor’s security detail. [Jones alleged that Ferguson delivered a note from Clinton inviting her to his hotel room.]
Plaintiff states that upon arriving at the suite and announcing herself, the Governor shook her hand, invited her in, and closed the door. Pl.’s Statement of Mat. Facts, && 7-8. She states that a few minutes of small talk ensued, which included the Governor asking her about her job and him mentioning that Dave Harrington, plaintiff’s ultimate superior within the AIDC and a Clinton appointee, was his “good friend.” Id. & 8; Am. Compl. & 17. Plaintiff states that the Governor then “unexpectedly reached over to [her], took her hand, and pulled her toward him, so that their bodies were close to each other.” Pl.’s Statement of Mat. Facts, & 9. She states she removed her hand from his and retreated several feet, but that the Governor approached her again and, while saying, “I love the way your hair flows down your back” and “I love your curves,” put his hand on her leg, started sliding it toward her pelvic area, and bent down to attempt to kiss her on the neck, all without her consent. Id. && 9-10; Pl.’s Depo. at 237-38.1 Plaintiff states that she exclaimed, “What are you doing?,” told the Governor that she was “not that kind of girl,” and “escaped” from the Governor’s reach “by walking away from him.” Pl.’s Statement of Mat. Facts, & 11; Pl.’s Depo. at 237. She states she was extremely upset and confused and, not knowing what to do, attempted to distract the Governor by chatting about his wife. Pl.’s Statement of Mat. Facts, & 11. Plaintiff states that she sat down at the end of the sofa nearest the door, but that the Governor approached the sofa where she had taken a seat and, as he sat down, “lowered his trousers and underwear, exposed his penis (which was erect) and told [her] to ‘kiss it.’” Id.2 She states that she was “horrified” by this and that she “jumped up from the couch” and told the Governor that she had to go, saying something to the effect that she had to get back to the registration desk. Id. & 12. Plaintiff states that the Governor, “while fondling his penis,” said, “Well, I don’t want to make you do anything you don’t want to do,” and then pulled up his pants and said, “If you get in trouble for leaving work, have Dave call me immediately and I’ll take care of it.” Id. She states that as she left the room (the door of which was not locked), the Governor “detained” her momentarily, “looked sternly” at her, and said, “You are smart. Let’s keep this between ourselves.” Id.; Pl.’s Depo. at 94, 96-97.3
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Finally, the Court addresses plaintiff’s state law claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress or outrage. Arkansas recognizes a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress based on sexual harassment. Davis v. Tri-State Mack Distribs., Inc., 981 F.2d 340, 342 (8th Cir.1992) (citing Hale v. Ladd, 308 Ark. 567, 826 S.W.2d 244 (1992)). To establish a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must prove that: . . . the conduct was extreme and outrageous and utterly intolerable in a civilized community . . . .
In M.B.M. Co. v. Counce, 268 Ark. 269, 280, 596 S.W.2d 681, 687 (1980), the Arkansas Supreme Court stated that “[b]y extreme and outrageous conduct, we mean conduct that is so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in civilized society.” Whether conduct is “extreme and outrageous” is determined by looking at “the conduct at issue; the period of time over which the conduct took place; the relation between plaintiff and defendant; and defendant’s knowledge that plaintiff is particularly susceptible to emotional distress by reason of some physical or mental peculiarity.” Doe v. Wright, 82 F.3d 265, 269 (8th Cir.1996) (citing Hamaker, 51 F.3d at 111). The tort is clearly not intended to provide legal redress for every slight insult or indignity that one must endure. Manning, 127 F.3d at 690 (citing Hamaker, 51 F.3d at 110). The Arkansas courts take a strict approach and give a narrow view to claims of outrage, see id., and merely describing conduct as outrageous does not make it so. Ross, 817 S.W.2d at 420.
While the Court will certainly agree that plaintiff’s allegations describe offensive conduct … the conduct as alleged by plaintiff describes a mere sexual proposition or encounter, albeit an odious one, that was relatively brief in duration, did not involve any coercion or threats of reprisal, and was abandoned as soon as plaintiff made clear that the advance was not welcome. The Court is not aware of any authority holding that such a sexual encounter or proposition of the type alleged in this case, without more, gives rise to a claim of outrage. Cf. Croom, 913 S.W.2d at 287 (use of wine and medication by a vastly older relative to foist sex on a minor cousin went "beyond a mere sexual encounter" and offended all sense of decency).
In sum, plaintiff’s allegations fall far short of the rigorous standards for establishing a claim of outrage under Arkansas law and the Court therefore grants the President’s motion for summary judgment on this claim.
1In her amended complaint, plaintiff states that the Governor Aput his hand on [her] leg and started sliding it toward the hem of [her] culottes, apparently attempting to reach [her] pelvic area.@ In her original complaint, plaintiff states that the Governor Aput his hand on [her] leg and stated sliding toward the hem of [her] culottes@ with no reference to her Apelvic area.@
2Plaintiff states in her amended complaint that the Governor “asked” her to “kiss it” rather than telling her to do so. Am. Compl. & 21. She states in her deposition that the Governor’s specific words to her were, “Would you kiss it for me?” Pl.’s Depo. at 108.
3Plaintiff’s allegation that the Governor momentarily “detained” her was not included in either her original or amended complaint
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