Torts Evening- Fall 2007
Professor Ralph Brill
Substantive Reviews
Substantive Reviews


The third intentional, dignitary tort is False Imprisonment. We defined its elements as:

∙ Defendant intentionally
∙ By acts or threats,
∙ Causes Plaintiff
∙ To be totally confined,
∙ For an unreasonable amount of time
∙ Within boundaries, physical or intangible, established by Defendant,
∙ With no reasonable means of escape,
∙ To Plaintiff's contemporaneous knowledge of the confinement, or to Plaintiff's harm,
∙ Without consent or other legal justification.

Once again, all of the law related to the doctrine of intent is applicable, and will not be repeated here, except to emphasize that the intent here is either acting for the purpose of causing Plaintiff's total confinment or acting with the knowledge to a substantial certainty that such confinement will occur.

Likewise, the law of causation is no different for False Imprisonment than for the other intentional torts.

∙ It can occur directly, as when a Defendant locks the door to a room in which Plaintiff is sitting, or

∙ indirectly, such as removing or destroying the Plaintiff's only means of leaving a closed area.

∙ While ordinarily one has no duty to help another who is in a situation of peril, such as being locked in a room or on board a ship, a duty to free the Plaintiff may be created if

∙ there is a special relationship between the parties. Such relationships may include common carrier and passenger, and business and invitee.

∙ The duty to help free the Plaintiff may also arise if the Defendant's instrumentality is causing the confinement, even though not because of any fault of the Defendant. Thus, if Plaintiff were locked in Defendant's store, or fell into Defendant's backyard well (aside from whether P was a trespasser or not), the Defendant probably must try to help the Plaintiff get out if that can be done without harm to the Defendant.

Unlike Assault, an action for False Imprisonment may be based on a Defendant's threat to harm Plaintiff, as well as the actual use of force.

∙ It may be based on an implicit threat, such as placing a person under arrest, with the implicit threat that if the person resists physical or legal force will be exerted.

∙ While, in general, courts have said that a threat of future action is not sufficient to satisfy this element, it would seem that some threats of future conduct would do so; a statement that “if you try to leave this room, I will shoot you” is technically a threat of future action, but it would seem that it would satisfy the requirement that the threat of force caused Plaintiff's total confinement.

∙ The more typical case involves the actual use of force, which may include physically holding Plaintiff, pointing a gun at Plaintiff or simply locking a door.

∙ The force exerted may even be indirect, such as threatening to harm a member of Plaintiff's family if Plaintiff tries to leave, or Defendant's taking possession of a significant piece of Plaintiff's property, such as Plaintiff's purse or car keys. Plaintiff is not required to give up something valuable in order to be free to leave.

The next three elements all involve the question of what constitutes total confinement.

∙ There must be a total confinement for some unreasonable period of time within boundaries established by Defendant, with no reasonable means of escape.

∙ The length of time may be quite short, though it would seem that a momentary confinement for a matter of a few seconds (or possibly even a few minutes of inconvenience) would not usually amount to the kind of invasion of dignity and bodily integrity which this tort seeks to prevent.

∙ These may be physical boundaries, such as the walls of a room, a jail cell, a building. While Defendant does not “create”
∙ these boundaries, the Defendant nevertheless utilizes existing physical boundaries in such a case.

∙ They may be more intangible boundaries, such as causing the Plaintiff not to leave an area of town or even a city.

∙ They may be invisible boundaries, such as when a Defendant points a gun at Plaintiff and tells him not to move; there are no physical or territorial boundaries, but nevertheless the Plaintiff is totally confined to an area established by Defendant's threat of harm.

∙ There must be some kind of boundaries, however, on all sides; it is not False Imprisonment to merely deny Plaintiff access or admission to a place where Plaintiff wants or is entitled to go.

∙ Plaintiff is not totally confined if there is a reasonable means of escape or exit.

∙ To be a reasonable, the means of exit must be known or obvious.

∙ To be reasonable, the means of exit must not expose Plaintiff to any threat of harm to her/his person or property. It must not lead to a potential source of danger.

∙ To be reasonable, the means of exit must not expose Plaintiff to embarassment, unreasonable discomfort, or require her/him to be heroic.

In the ordinary case, Plaintiff must be aware or conscious of her/his confinement.

∙ False Imprisonment is one of the dignitary torts, and protects the mental kind of injury that occurs when people become aware that they are confined against their wills.

∙ However, in some circumstances, the Plaintiff will be unconscious, or mentally deficient, or too young to realize what has occurred. In such cases, the Restatement says that such persons should be able to recover for False Imprisonment if they suffer some harm as a result of the confinement, even if they do not understand that they have been confined.

Consent and other privileges normally are matters of defense, to be asserted and proved by Defendant.

∙ One typical kind of False Imprisonment occurs when a police officer or a private citizen attempts to make an arrest of an individual on criminal charges, but lacks the authority to do so. This kind of case is usually called False Arrest; it is merely one class of False Imprisonment cases, however.

∙ The typical arrest of a criminal law suspect satisfies all of the elements of False Imprisonment: The defendant intentionally causes Plaintiff's total confinement for a significant amount of time, to Plaintiff's knowledge, within physical or intangible boundaries, with no reasonable means of exit;

∙ but the arrest is not actionable as False Imprisonment because it is privileged, under legal justification.

∙ However, if the police officer or private person act under circumstances where they lack legal justification, the conduct does fulfill all of the requirements and is actionable. For example, if an officer arrests a person without an arrest warrant, under circumstances where the law of criminal procedure or the Constitution requires the officer to have an arrest warrant, the Defendant has committed a False Arrest, and therefore a False Imprisonment.

Consent becomes a more common issue in False Imprisonment cases than for Assault or Battery because it commonly is the determining factor in cases where suspected shoplifters are detained for investigation, or where company employees are investigated for embezzlement or theft. Usually such cases boil down to a question of whether the Plaintiff has gone voluntarily with the store officials or company security in order to clear one's name, or whether the Plaintiff has not consented to the investigation and thus been forced to confinement for questioning or investigation. There may, however, be a privilege to detain for investigation suspected shoplifters....the so-called shopkeeper’s privilege.