On December 14, 2011, appellant Aaron Olson contracted to receive telephone service from respondent CenturyLink and also applied for reduced-rate service that CenturyLink provides through Minnesota’s Telephone Assistance Plan (TAP), a statewide program established to reduce telephone rates for low-income households.

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CenturyLink did not apply the reduced rate to Olson’s first bill but had attached a blank copy of the TAP application. Olson completed the application and mailed it to CenturyLink, but his next bill also did not reflect a reduced rate. Olson called CenturyLink and learned that the company had not received his application. Olson then faxed another application to CenturyLink. A few days later, he contacted CenturyLink but could not confirm whether his application had been received. On January 31, 2012, CenturyLink disconnected his telephone service. When Olson called CenturyLink to resolve the dispute, the company representatives repeatedly hung up on him.

In April 2012, Olson filed suit, claiming that Century-Link violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), page 201was negligent, and committed intentional infliction of emotional distress. Because he did not have the money for filing fees, Olson also filed a petition to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP). The district court denied the petition, determining that the action was frivolous because the claims had no basis in law. Olson appealed.

JUDGE BJORKMAN: … Olson argues that the district court improperly denied his IFP petition because his claims are legally sound….

Finally, Olson claims that CenturyLink is liable in tort for intentional infliction of emotional distress. To prevail on this tort, a plaintiff must establish the defendant’s conduct (1) was extreme and outrageous, (2) was intentional or reckless, (3) caused emotional distress, and (4) the distress was severe…. Extreme and outrageous conduct is behavior “so atrocious that it passes the boundaries of decency and is utterly intolerable to the civilized community…. Furthermore, the emotional distress must be so severe “that no reasonable man could be expected to endure it.” …

The conduct alleged in the amended complaint does not approach this standard. First, CenturyLink’s acts of failing to process Olson’s application, disconnecting his telephone service, and hanging up on him during telephone conversations are not so atrocious that they pass the boundaries of decency. SeeLangeslag v. KYMN Inc., … (holding that insults, indignities, annoyances, petty oppressions, and other trivialities do not constitute extreme and outrageous conduct); see also Venes v. Prof’l Serv. Bureau, Inc.(concluding a jury could reasonably find that a debt collector engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct by repeatedly threatening a debtor in light of the debtor’s medical problems). Second, Olson does not allege that he experienced severe emotional distress as a result of CenturyLink’s conduct. See Covey v. Detroit Lakes Printing Co. … (determining plaintiff’s distress was not severe where he had sought no psychiatric, psychological, or other treatment); see also Wenigar v. Johnson, … (concluding that plaintiff’s distress was severe when he suffered from nightmares, crying spells, physical illness, and post-traumatic stress disorder).

Because Olson’s claims lack any reasonable basis in law, the district court did not abuse its discretion by determining that his action is frivolous and denying his IFP petition.

AFFIRMED in favor of Defendant CenturyLink.


Notice that case law can, as in this case, serve as a restriction on our emotional response to a case. Many of us have had trouble with our phone carrier. The alleged behavior of CenturyLink is at minimum annoying. But case law lays out standards that determine the availability of remedies in cases like these. Reading the case law, describe behavior that CenturyLink would have had to have engaged in for the plaintiff to have prevailed.


What value is the court upholding in finding against the plaintiff?

Expert Answer

Olson can file for emotional distress only if the mental suffering is caused by an extreme experience. There should be evidence of such experience from Century Link other than failure to process his application for Telephone Assistance Plan and disconnecting the service. Olson has not undergone any mental or physical harm because of this. If Century Link has done any physical harm to Olson the case would have won by Olson on the basis of evidence. Olson should have evidence to prove that CentuaryLink’s behavior was extreme and outrageous.

Court upholds the value of speech with evidence in finding against the plaintiff. Before filing the IFP the plaintiff should make sure that the suit is in accordance to the general policies of the court and the value of speech points only on the emotional response of the plaintiff. The court could not find any signs of extreme and outrageous conduct by Century Link and no treatment is sought by Olson for mental depression. Olson’s allegations are based on his sensitivity towards the issue and plaintiff sensitivity is considered irrelevant in cases related to emotional distress when compared against value of speech.

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