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Williams v. Guzzardi

filed: May 15, 1989.


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil Ation No. 86-5979.

Gibbons, Chief Judge, Hutchinson and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.

Author: Hutchinson


HUTCHINSON, Circuit Judge

Charles Williams brought this action for damages in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against his former landlord, Chancellor Associates (Chancellor), and its employee, Michael Guzzardi. He asserted claims under 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1981, 1982 (West 1981), 42 U.S.C.A. § 3612 (West 1977) and Pennsylvania law, all stemming from his April 1986 eviction from the Chancellor Apartments in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After a four-day trial, the jury awarded Williams $25,000 in compensatory and punitive damages on his claim for intentional infliction of severe emotional distress.*fn1 The district court thereafter dismissed the defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial because of their failure to order the trial transcript or otherwise comply with Local Rule 20(e).

Guzzardi and Chancellor now appeal. They do not argue that the district court improperly dismissed their post-trial motion and have therefore waived that issue. Instead, they argue only that the district court should have entered judgment in their favor because Pennsylvania does not impose liability for intentional infliction of severe emotional distress or, alternatively, that the evidence before the jury was insufficient to establish that tort. Although appellants' notice of appeal specifies only the order dismissing their post-trial motion, we conclude it also brings before us the order entering judgment for Williams and the underlying denial of appellants' directed verdict motion at the close of the evidence. Upon careful consideration of the applicable Pennsylvania law, we continue to believe that Pennsylvania will recognize this tort and that the evidence in this record was sufficient to establish liability for it. Accordingly, we will affirm the district court's entry of judgment on the jury's verdict.


Williams moved into the Chancellor Apartments in March, 1986. After he wrote two bad checks for the April rent, the management informed him that it was considering legal action. Williams then asked to meet with Guzzardi. Williams testified that on April 24, 1986 they had a heated conversation at his apartment during which Guzzardi said "he could very easily throw me out the window" and "could take care of [me] without ever laying a hand on [me] because [he knew] people." Appendix (App.) at 1-89. Later that day, a maintenance man removed the door to Williams's apartment and replaced it several hours later.

The following day, Guzzardi asked Williams for some assurance that he would pay the rent due. Guzzardi suggested that Williams relinquish his apartment keys, stay overnight at a Holiday Inn at the apartment's expense and re-occupy his apartment the next day after paying what he owed. Id. at 1-93. Williams testified that he accepted this suggestion to show his sincerity. After Williams gave his keys to the doorman, Guzzardi "said something to the effect: 'Well, how do you like it? I got you. I told you I was going to get you back. Nobody talks to me like you did.'" Id. at 1-94. Guzzardi then told passing police officers that Williams was a trespasser and did not live in the building. Unable to refute this assertion, Williams left.

Williams stored the bag of clothes he had intended to take to the Holiday Inn in a locker at the bus station and "basically just walked, trying to think of, you know, some way of rectifying the problem of where to stay that night." Id. at 1-97. On succeeding nights, he slept at a friend's residence, in Fairmount Park, underneath the Suburban Station, and on the concourse of City Hall. Id. at 1-97 to -98. During this time, Williams testified, he "had just a very low feeling," felt "like a non-entity almost," and was "dissolusioned [sic] and depressed over my sudden state." Id. at 1-98. He described the experience as "totally bewildering and unpleasant." Id. at 1-99. After three weeks, he found "a stable place to stay" at the Adelphia House, in the offices of a local politician for whom he had done volunteer work. Id. at 1-99 to -100.

On May 20, 1986, Williams served as a poll watcher at the Chancellor Apartments for the primary election. Guzzardi asked him why he was there and "then announced, 'Watch this guy. He's a pimp. I kicked him out of here for running a whore house.'" Id. at 1-101; see also id. at 1-40. Later that day, Guzzardi told Williams to take the rest of his belongings with him when he left "or we're going to throw them out on the street," id. at 1-104. On Guzzardi's instructions, the doorman carried them to the street. Williams took what he could carry to the Adelphia House and a passing friend, recognizing the items as Williams's, took the rest. Id. at 1-105 to -106.*fn2

Williams testified that as a result of all these events his feelings of helplessness returned. His freedom to perform ordinary tasks was limited. Id. at 1-107. His mail and telephone correspondence was disrupted and he did not receive a check until at least six to eight weeks after it was expected. Id. at 1-107 to -108. He said this was "a very frustrating existence. . . . I was very, very depressed, and it seemed that things that I normally coped with very easily became difficult tasks." Id. at 1-109.

In November 1986, Williams consulted Dr. Peg Van Vyven, a psychotherapist. Id. at 1-110. Dr. Van Vyven, testifying as an expert in psychology, stated that when she first saw Williams he had difficulty concentrating, lacked motivation, and "felt like he [had] lost control over his life." Id. at 2-7. He was also distraught, id. at 2-9, and was having difficulty sleeping "to a large extent." Id. at 2-12. She initially diagnosed him as suffering from an "adjustment disorder" but soon "changed the diagnosis to a depressive disorder." Id. at 2-7. She testified that "[the] symptomology of a depressive disorder is more debilitating to the individual" than the symptomology of an adjustment disorder. Id. at 2-8. Williams's "severe set of depressive symptoms" included embarrassment and humiliation, and he had great difficulty asking for help. Id. at 2-9 to -10.

In August 1987, she referred Williams to Dr. Grosso, who prescribed antidepressant medication. Id. at 1-112, 2-10 to -11. Dr. Van Vyven subsequently saw improvement in Williams's condition. Id. at 2-19. Williams testified that before the eviction, he had neither sought psychotherapy nor ...

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