Raised in a $1.5 million Barrington Hills, Ill., home by their attorney father, two grown children have spent the last two years pursuing a unique lawsuit against their mom for "bad mothering" that alleges damages caused when she failed to buy toys for one and sent another a birthday card he didn't like.
The alleged offenses include failing to take her daughter to a car show, telling her then 7-year-old son to buckle his seat belt or she would contact police, "haggling" over the amount to spend on party dresses and calling her daughter at midnight to ask that she return home from celebrating homecoming.
Last week, at which point the court record stood about a foot tall, an Illinois appeals court dismissed the case, finding that none of the mother's conduct was "extreme or outrageous." To rule in favor of her children, the court found, "could potentially open the floodgates to subject family childrearing to ... excessive judicial scrutiny and interference."
In 2009, the children, represented by three attorneys including their father, Steven A. Miner, sued their mother, Kimberly Garrity. Steven II, now 23, and his sister Kathryn, now 20, sought more than $50,000 for "emotional distress."
Miner and Garrity were married for a decade before she filed for divorce in 1995, records show.
Among the exhibits filed in the case is a birthday card Garrity sent her son, who in his lawsuit sought damages because the card was "inappropriate" and failed to include cash or a check. He also alleged she failed to send a card for years or, while he was in college, care packages.
On the front of the American Greetings card is a picture of tomatoes spread across a table that are indistinguishable except for one in the middle with craft-store googly eyes attached.
"Son I got you this Birthday card because it's just like you ... different from all the rest!" the card reads. On the inside Garrity wrote "Have a great day! Love & Hugs, Mom xoxoxo."
"It would be laughable that these children of privilege would sue their mother for emotional distress, if the consequences were not so deadly serious for (Garrity)," Smith wrote. "There is no insurance for this claim, so (Garrity) must pay her legal fees, while (the children) have their father for free."
Messages left for Smith were not returned. Steven A. Miner, reached by phone, did not comment. In court papers he said he only filed the lawsuit after much legal research and had tried to dissuade his children from bringing the case.
The Cook County judge who ruled on the case, Kathy Flanagan, declined to assess sanctions against Miner, but said the lawsuit amounted to nothing more than children "suing their mother for bad mothering."
DePaul University law professor Bruce Ottley, who co-wrote a textbook on Illinois tort law, says courts have long carved out an exception to family members suing each other, barring any extreme conduct.
"If junior slips on the rug in the living room and sues mom or dad, that can't happen," Ottley said.
He said such emotional distress damages are a way for the legal system to address situations - sexual harassment for instance - where there is no physical harm. But those bringing a case to court must prove the conduct was outrageous.
"The fact that it is such a high standard, it doesn't succeed very often," Ottley said.