12(B)(6) Standard of Review for Failure to State a Claim - Tort of Outrage: Wilson v. University of Alabama Health Services Foundation


Wilson v. University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, [Ms. 1160654, Dec. 15, 2017] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2017). This decision by Justice Shaw (Stuart, C.J., and Parker, Main, Wise, and Bryan, JJ., concur; Bolin, Murdock, and Sellers, JJ., dissent) reverses the Jefferson Circuit Court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint alleging the tort of outrage against the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation and a number of its physicians. Wilson alleged that the defendant physicians made egregious and tactless comments to her and her dying mother to the effect that the mother was wasting resources by being in the hospital rather than dying at home. Ms. *2-3. The trial court dismissed the claim at the pleading stage for failure to state a claim concluding that outrage is limited to three situations. In reversing, the Court reiterated that

“At the motion-to-dismiss stage, however, a court’s ability to pick and choose which allegations of the complaint to accept as true is constrained by Alabama’s broad and well settled standard for the dismissal of claims under Rule 12(b)(6). ... [O]ur standard of review does not permit this Court to consider the plausibility of the allegations. Rather, in considering whether a complaint is sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss, we must take the allegations of the complaint as true, Ussery v. Terry, 201 So. 3d 544, 546 (Ala. 2016); we do not consider ‘“whether the pleader will ultimately prevail but whether the pleader may possibly prevail,”’ Daniel v. Moye, 224 So. 3d 115, 127 (Ala. 2016) (quoting Newman v. Savas, 878 So. 2d 1147, 1149 (Ala. 2003) (emphasis added)); and ‘[w]e construe all doubts regarding the sufficiency of the complaint in favor of the plaintiff.’ Daniel, 224 So. 3d at 127.”

Ms. *6, quoting Ex parte Austal USA, LLC, [Ms. 1151138, March 3, 2017] __ So. 3d __, __ (Ala. 2017).

The Court noted that it had previously held that the limited cause of action of outrage is recognized in the family-burial context, barbaric methods to coerce insurance settlements, and egregious sexual harassment. Ms. *7, citing Potts v. Hayes, 771 So. 2d 462, 465 (Ala. 2000). However, the Court held that the circuit court erred in holding that the tort of outrage is necessarily limited to the three situations set out in Potts. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of dismissal with instructions to the trial court to consider under the appropriate 12(b)(6) standard, “whether the alleged conduct was so extreme and degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.” Ms. *8.

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