Assault and battery are broad torts: they can be used to cover many different situations, perhaps including ones in which barriers or the threat of force are used to force someone to go where he or she doesn’t want to go, or to keep a person in one place without assent. Yet tort law has evolved a more specific tort to cover that particular set of situations: false imprisonment.
What, if anything, does false imprisonment accomplish as a category that assault and battery cannot? What plausible situations could arise that would test a colloquial notion of what counts as false imprisonment, and how can we best sort those out? Are there “good” imprisonments that can come up in everyday life that should be excused from the tort’s reach?
Should a defendant be liable for false imprisonment when it did not apply force, use the threat of force, nor assert its authority to confine the plaintiff?
Notes: Plaintiff—an employee of defendant—was suspected of “shorting” the cash register. The plaintiff voluntarily entered the back room of the store at her supervisor’s request. In the back room, the supervisor and another man questioned her regarding the alleged “shorting”. No threats of any kind were made during the interrogation, and plaintiff left the room and went home when she first decided to do so.
Should we regard individuals as “falsely imprisoned” when they are provided with many opportunities to escape?
Notes: Plaintiff joined a cult while in college. As a result, her grades fell, she became increasingly alienated from her family, and she sold her car and took on a part-time job to increase her payments to the cult. Afraid for their daughter, the plaintiff’s parents took her to the house of a self-styled professional deprogrammer. For two days, the plaintiff violently resisted the deprogramming and was forcibly confined. However, over the next thirteen days, plaintiff’s demeanor changed considerably; she became “friendly and vivacious”. Subsequently, plaintiff was no longer confined by force and was free to participate in outdoor activities, take solitary walks, and even fly to another city with another former cult member who had shared her experiences in the former week. At the end of the deprogramming period, plaintiff refused to sign a waiver releasing her parents from liability for the past weeks’ actions, and returned to the cult and her fiance—who was also a member.
Should we recognize false imprisonment in situations where the confinement is arguably for the plaintiff’s own good? Should consent excuse the defendant’s liability for false imprisonment, even if it is feigned?
Notes: Plaintiff and his wife were members of a cult. Relatives of the plaintiff hired the defendant to abduct and deprogram the plaintiff. For five and one-half days, plaintiff was held at defendant’s deprogramming center. Security guards and handcuffs were used to forcibly restrain the plaintiff. Several days into his confinement, the plaintiff feigned consent to the deprogramming in hopes of gaining an opportunity to escape. The plaintiff finally escaped from defendant’s custody by jumping out of a car while being transported to another city for further deprogramming.
Can an otherwise-consented-to action become false imprisonment if the plaintiff no longer wants it?
Notes: Police transported the drunken plaintiff to an abandoned golf course outside of the city so he could “dry out”. During the car ride to the golf course, plaintiff requested to be let out at a different location. Plaintiff was severely injured when he walked out onto the highway, still intoxicated, in an attempt to return home. At trial, plaintiff admitted that he could no longer recall the car ride.
Should defendants be excused from false imprisonment liability when they mistakenly exercise otherwise-legal restraint on the wrong individual?
Notes: Plaintiff’s brother identified himself as the plaintiff when arrested and used his brother’s name when obtaining a bond. After his brother absconds on the bond, a facially valid warrant was issued in the plaintiff's name. A bounty hunter apprehended the plaintiff and took him to court.
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