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Mother wins lawsuit over allegations of lousy parenting

By Bill Mears, CNN
  • Two childen accused their mother of "bad mothering"
  • They were represented in court by their father
  • Judges found mother's conduct erratic and sometimes spiteful
  • But they said it was not outside "all possible bounds of decency"

(CNN) -- A family feud involving allegations of "bad mothering" has spilled into an unusual public court spat involving unbought toys, unattended disco dances, and unwanted visits to an auto show.

An Illinois appeals court last week dismissed a lawsuit brought by two adult children against their mother over her parenting skills while they were children. Kimberly Garrity was accused of "intentional infliction of emotional distress."

But the three-judge panel concluded in a 33-page ruling the "plaintiffs failed to allege conduct that was so extreme and outrageous as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency," at least as far state law applies.

Adding to the soap opera dynamic -- the children were represented in court by their father.

Steven Miner and Garrity divorced in 1995 when Steven Jr. was 7 and Kathryn was 4. The father was given sole custody over the boy, and joint custody of the girl. The children were raised in a high-end neighborhood of Barrington Hills, northwest of Chicago.

The original complaint filed two years ago by the Miners claims Garrity sought to punish her ex-husband by engaging in a course of detrimental conduct aimed at her children, including pitting the youngsters against each other. Garrity was accused of referring to her husband as the "Disneyland" parent, for allegedly spoiling the kids and putting much of the disciplinary burden on her.

Among the allegations:

-- Garrity would give clothes and toys to Kathryn and not Steven.

-- Kathryn asked her mother to take her to an auto show, but Garrity refused and took the boy instead.

-- Steven was given college financial assistance, but the daughter was not, despite her requests.

-- Steven was given money for an all-terrain vehicle, but Kathryn was refused money for dresses, dances, and graduation.

-- Birthday cards failed to include money or gifts.

-- As a 7-year-old, Steven became emotionally upset when Mom ordered him in a harsh manner to buckle his seat belt.

But the appeals court was not convinced. "At its worst, (the alleged wrongdoing) reflects behavior that is sometimes erratic, sometimes spiteful, sometimes less than fully generous or fully sensitive to the material and emotional needs of her children. But by no means does the nature and quality of this conduct fall outside 'all possible bounds of decency.'"

And the judges warned such cases could create a legal slippery slope.

"If extreme and outrageous conduct were no longer required for recovery in intentional infliction of emotional distress actions between parents and children, it could potentially open the floodgates to subject family childrearing to nonconstructive excessive judicial scrutiny and interference."

The mother's lawyer blamed much of the discord on her ex-husband. Attorney Shelley Smith said by representing his kids in the court fight, Steven Miner tried to "seek the ultimate revenge" against the mother. Court records from Garrity said she was devastated at being publicly accused of "being an inadequate mother."

"It would be laughable that these children of privilege would sue their mother for emotional distress, if consequences were not so deadly serious" for the mother, said Smith in responding to the appeal. "There is no insurance for this claim, so (Garrity) must pay her legal fees, while (the children) have their father for free."

Smith said her client would not comment on the legal victory, but added, "We are very pleased with the court's decision."

Steven is now 23, and Kathryn is 20. They alleged in their complaint -- written by their father -- that the real issue is accountability. They had sought damages of more than $50,000 for each of them.

The allegations were first reported by the Chicago Tribune. There was no response to the ruling from Miner, the father.

In court papers, Garrity said she still loves her children, but she warned the public nature of the lawsuit would hurt them going forward.

"Everything ... shows that these children, orchestrated by their father, will stop at nothing to embarrass and financially harm their mother," said Garrity's appeal. "In the process they have embarrassed themselves and left a public record blogged about on the Internet that will shadow their every future relationship."