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Spicer v. Patnode

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 3

June 25, 2019

JUNGHEE KIM SPICER and DAVID SPICER, wife and husband; YAKIMA ARTS ACADEMY, a Washington limited liability company, Respondents,
PAUL PATNODE, individually and on behalf of the marital community, Appellant.

          Lawrence-Berrey, C. J.

         Over the course of four months, Paul Patnode regularly and repeatedly remote-started his Ford F-250 pickup, revved its engine, and activated its alarm to scare Junghee Spicer's young piano students as they walked past his truck on the way to their piano lessons. Mr. Patnode's purpose was to interfere with Ms. Spicer's piano lesson business and to cause her severe distress. He failed in his first objective, but accomplished the second. The trial court found in favor of Ms. Spicer on her claim of outrage and awarded her $40, 000.

         The primary question we answer is whether Mr. Patnode's conduct was sufficiently outrageous and extreme to sustain the trial court's award. Conduct that is done infrequently merely to annoy a person cannot form the basis of an outrage claim. But the same conduct, done frequently over a period of weeks or months with the intent to cause severe emotional distress to a person, can form the basis of an outrage claim. We hold that Mr. Patnode's conduct was sufficiently outrageous and extreme to present a question of fact. For this reason, we defer to the finder of fact and affirm.


         Background prior to purported tortious conduct

         Paul and Melissa Patnode live across Lyle Loop Road from Junghee and David Spicer. In 2009, Ms. Spicer began teaching private piano lessons in her home, mostly to children. That year, Mr. Spicer suffered a stroke. Three years later, he had to retire early. To supplement their income, Ms. Spicer increased the number of piano lessons she taught.

         In February 2012, Mr. Patnode complained to the Spicers about Ms. Spicer's piano teaching business. Unable to resolve the problems, Mr. Patnode complained to Yakima County. His complaints included increased traffic, damage to a sprinkler in his front yard, noise from car doors shutting and remotely locking, and headlights coming into his house.

         The complaints prompted Yakima County to require the Spicers to obtain a conditional use permit for their business. On July 11, 2012, the Spicers obtained a minor home occupation permit from Yakima County. The permit authorized Ms. Spicer to teach piano lessons for up to five students per day. Lessons were permitted from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, September through May. The permit required the Spicers to provide off-street parking for customers.

         In August 2012, Yakima County issued a modified permit that authorized Ms. Spicer to provide lessons for two additional months per year and increase the number of students to six per day. The Spicers were still required to provide off-street parking for customers.

         Throughout 2012, Mr. Patnode continued complaining to Yakima County about Ms. Spicer's business. His complaints included Ms. Spicer teaching instruments other than piano and teaching outside the authorized hours. In addition, he complained that parents dropped their children off and picked them up along the street. He believed that this violated the off-street parking requirement.

         In December 2012, Mr. Patnode sued the Spicers and alleged that their piano business violated the restrictive covenants that applied to the neighborhood. In 2014, the Spicers prevailed on summary judgment. Mr. Patnode was ordered to pay more than $30, 000 for the Spicers' attorney fees and costs.

         In 2014, the city of Selah annexed the parties' neighborhood. Mr. Patnode began complaining to the city of Selah that Ms. Spicer continued to violate her modified permit. That year, the Spicers formed Yakima Arts Academy, LLC (YAA). Ms. Spicer, through YAA, continued to teach piano lessons, both in her house and also in a leased building in Yakima.

         Purported tortious conduct

         From around Thanksgiving 2015 to March 24, 2016, Mr. Patnode parked his Ford F-250 diesel pickup along the sidewalk next to the Spicers' residence where piano students entered the Spicers' home. Other vehicles belonging to Mr. Patnode or his household also parked along the Spicers' side of the street.

         During this time, Mr. Patnode regularly and repeatedly remote-started his F-250 and set off its alarm when Ms. Spicer's students and their parents walked by the F-250. Ms. Spicer observed this conduct approximately 12 times. When Ms. Spicer observed this conduct, it frightened her and her students. Mr. Spicer observed this conduct about six times.

         Ms. Spicer's 2016 anti-harassment petition

         In 2016, Ms. Spicer petitioned for an anti-harassment order against Mr. Patnode. Based on evidence presented at the anti-harassment hearing, the court granted Ms. Spicer's request and entered an anti-harassment order. The order prevented Mr. Patnode from parking vehicles on Ms. Spicer's side of the street and required him to disable the remote-start and alarm for his F-250. Mr. Patnode complied with the order.

         This lawsuit

         Partial grant of summary judgment for the Spicers

         In May 2016, the Spicers filed this lawsuit against Mr. Patnode. They sought damages for intentional interference with their piano business and damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Prior to trial, the Spicers moved for partial summary judgment. The motion sought to preclude Mr. Patnode from disputing (1) his conduct had no legitimate or lawful purpose and (2) his conduct caused Ms. Spicer substantial emotional distress. The Spicers contended that these issues had already been litigated and necessarily decided when they obtained the anti-harassment order in March 2016. The trial court granted their motion.


         At trial, Ms. Spicer testified that Mr. Patnode's conduct caused her severe emotional distress because she feared for her safety and the safety of her children and students. She explained that Mr. Patnode's remote-starting his truck scared her because she was concerned he would "go to the next step and actually physically harm somebody." Report of Proceedings at 131.

         Ms. Spicer testified that Mr. Patnode caused her to suffer from anxiety and insomnia, and that she began taking anti-anxiety medication in 2013. At some point after Mr. Patnode began remote-starting his truck, Ms. Spicer began taking an additional antianxiety medication.

         Two parents and one piano student testified about arriving for and leaving from piano lessons between Thanksgiving 2015 and March 24, 2016. They testified they observed Mr. Patnode's F-250 remotely starting, its engine revving, and its alarm activating on multiple occasions. One parent testified that this made her scared and concerned for her children's safety. One student testified that every time he had a piano lesson between those dates, he observed the F-250 remotely start, its engine rev loudly, and its alarm activate. The parents did not take their children out of piano lessons with Ms. Spicer, and the student who testified did not quit taking lessons from Ms. Spicer.

         The trial court found that Mr. Patnode did not cause any loss of business to the Spicers. The court, however, did find that Mr. Patnode's conduct was sufficiently outrageous to constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court further found that Ms. Spicer, but not Mr. Spicer, had proved compensable damages.

         The trial court entered the following findings of fact to which Mr. Patnode assigns error:

23. In 2016, Ms. Spicer filed a petition for an anti-harassment order against Mr. Patnode. The Court takes judicial notice that following a hearing, the Yakima County Superior Court orally concluded that Mr. Patnode was remotely starting his F-250 and setting off vehicle alarms and doing so on purpose repeatedly for the purpose of harassing the Spicers, making their lives more difficult. . . .[2]
32. Junghee Spicer suffered severe emotional distress as a result of Mr. Patnode parking vehicles on the street alongside the Spicers [sic] house from Thanksgiving 2015 to March 24, 2016, and regularly and repeatedly remote starting his F-250 pickup (which included revving the engine, lights turning on) and remotely setting off the vehicle alarm while it was parked on the street alongside the Spicers' house, where children/students and their parents were walking to and from lessons at the Spicers' residence.
33. The conduct of Mr. Patnode described above was directed towards Ms. Spicer. Mr. Patnode sought to interfere with the Spicers' music business. Ms. Spicer was the direct recipient of Mr. Patnode's conduct even though she was not present for, and did not observe, all instances when Mr. Patnode remote-started his F-250 or remotely set off the ...

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