False Imprisonment & False Arrest Laws & Elements Lawsuit Lawyer

False imprisonment is the non-consensual, intentional confinement of a person, without lawful privilege, for an appreciable length of time, however short, which causes the plaintiff to suffer harm.[1]

When breaking down the elements of false imprisonment a plaintiff must show that:

  • A plaintiff must show that there was non-consensual and intentional confinement.
  • The confinement must have occurred without lawful privilege.
  • The confinement must have occurred for an appreciable length of time.
  • The confinement must have caused the plaintiff to suffer harm.

False imprisonment is the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another. [2]

Please note that false imprisonment and false arrest are NOT separate torts. False arrest is simply one way of committing false imprisonment. [3]

 

FALSE IMPRISONMENT ELEMENTS: CONFINEMENT

Restraint may be effectuated employing:

  • physical force [4]
  • the threat of force or arrest [5]
  • physical barriers [6]
  • fraud or deceit [7]
  • or using any other form of unreasonable duress[8]

In false imprisonment, the injury suffered is the illegal confinement itself rather than any detriment occurring after imprisonment. [9]

The plaintiff did not have to be aware that they were confined during the confinement. If a plaintiff realizes that he was held against his will in false imprisonment, then he may file a claim.[10]

A plaintiff does not need to allege that he suffered any damages. The only thing he must allege is that he suffered confinement itself.[11]

 

Imprisonment or Involuntary Hospitalization

In a 1974 case involving a plaintiff who was legally jailed in a prison, the court held that the plaintiff can allege a claim of false imprisonment.

The court’s holding rested upon the fact that the sheriff failed to release the plaintiff from jail after the plaintiff lawfully completed his sentence. Therefore, once his sentence ended, the sheriff did not have any authorization to hold the plaintiff in the jail against his will. [12]

Similarly, the involuntary hospitalization of a person in a mental institution in violation of a statute may constitute false imprisonment. [13]


Physical Barriers

A plaintiff may allege a claim of false imprisonment if they are physically blocked from leaving a space by a physical barrier.

For example, in a 1951 case, the court held that a pregnant plaintiff established a claim by proving that she was confined in her home by a loan agent who informed her not to leave. The loan agent blocked the exit from her driveway with his car and the plaintiff could not leave. [14]

 

Physical Force

Force or the threat of force is not an essential element of false imprisonment.

A force or threat of force is merely one way to accomplish false imprisonment. [15]

An employee was accused of stealing money belonging to the defendant corporation and was forcibly detained when attempting to leave the office of the corporation’s general manager. [16]

 

Threats of Force

In an older case, the court demonstrates an example of a threat of force when an employer threatened her employee with jail time.

When an employee was accused of stealing money from her employer, her employer questioned her with two investigators. She threatened her employee that the investigators would forcefully take her to jail if she did not sign a confession within 3 minutes. [17]

 

False Arrest

Imprisonment based on lawful arrest is not false.

On the other hand, since an arrest involves detention or restraint, false arrest always involves imprisonment. [18]

 

Threats of Arrest or Embarrassment

In a 1994 case, the court found a claim of false imprisonment when the employee was confined to a room during interrogation for stealing.

A salesperson was confined when she was detained by her employer in a windowless interrogation room at work where managers and security agents accused her of stealing. They threatened to have her arrested and charged with the crime unless she confessed, and told her that witnesses to the incident were waiting in the next room. [19]


Other Fears and Threats

Here are some examples of other fears and threats in false imprisonment actions:

A false imprisonment cause of action was stated against a funeral director, who instead of driving a bereaved family to the burial service, drove them to his bank and stated that no one was going anywhere until he got paid. [20]

When restraint results from threats of divine retribution then it is protected by religious speech. It cannot form the basis for tort liability. [21]

A plaintiff agreed to remain in isolation for a week. He was threatened to go into isolation when the defendant stated that his sins would not be absolved unless he did so.

The threats were protected by religious speech and could not form the basis of tort liability. [22]

When a defendant restrains a plaintiff and states that they will not be able to leave, then this forms liability for false imprisonment.[23]

An employee who was suspected of stealing money from a corporation was unreasonably detained for five hours while corporate agents attempted to coerce her into a confession. [24]

 

Fraud or Deceit

In a 1996 case, the court found that unlawful confinement resulted from a medical air transport company’s misrepresentation regarding its authority to transport ill children. [25]

 

FALSE IMPRISONMENT ELEMENT: NON-CONSENSUAL

The confinement must be nonconsensual. [26] Where consent to confinement is procured through misrepresentation, confinement is nonconsensual. [27]

If a plaintiff agreed to the imprisonment in any way, then he will not effectively show a claim of false imprisonment.

 

FALSE IMPRISONMENT ELEMENT: INTENTIONAL

To prove false imprisonment, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had a particular mental state.

The defendant must have intended to confine or to create a similar intrusion on the plaintiff.

The plaintiff does not need to prove that the defendant had an intent to cause harm. [28]

To prove false imprisonment, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant intended to cause confinement. [29]

False statements made to a police officer by a public employee were intended to induce arrest and directly encouraged, instigated and incited subsequent arrest. [30] To be liable for false arrest, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant knowingly made false statements to the police with the intent to induce an arrest. The defendant is not liable unless the act is done to impose confinement, or with the knowledge that such confinement will, to a substantial certainty, result from it. [31]

Where a plaintiff alleges that another knowingly made false accusations to the police, the intent of the false accuser is not certain.

In these cases, the essential element of intent must be spelled out to state a cause of action. [32]

The plaintiff was not required to allege that the defendant knew the plaintiff and specifically acted with the intent to have him arrested.

An allegation that the defendant intended to induce an arrest of someone would be sufficient. [33]


FALSE IMPRISONMENT ELEMENT: WITHOUT LAWFUL PRIVILEGE

 

False Arrest by Business Owners and Merchants

A privilege exists for merchants who detain individuals because they have probable cause to believe they are about to injure their property.

The detention must be carried out for a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner. [34]

Sending a child to his room would not constitute false imprisonment since it is a lawful exercise of parental authority.

However, a parent who confines his or her child with the intent to endanger the health and safety of the child or for an unlawful purpose can be prosecuted for false imprisonment under Penal Code §236. [35]

The plaintiff had no false imprisonment claim for involuntary detention in a psychiatric facility where a nurse was authorized to admit patients for 72 hours.

The nurse had probable cause to believe that the detained individual was mentally disordered and posed a danger to himself or others. [36]

The plaintiff had no false imprisonment claim where the county took custody of a child during a child abuse investigation and under the protective custody provisions of California Welfare and Institutions Code §300. [37]


False Arrest by Peace Officer

A false arrest is an arrest without process, followed by imprisonment and damages.

Upon proof of an arrest without process, followed by imprisonment and damages, the burden is on the defendant to prove justification for the arrest. [38]

A complaint is insufficient if a plaintiff fails to allege facts under which the arrest would be unlawful.[39]

In the context of false arrest actions, the term “without legal process” most often refers to:

  • Arrests without a warrant [40]
  • Arrests without probable cause [41]
  • Arrests after which an unreasonable delay occurred in taking the arrestee to the magistrate [42]

What is an arrest?

  • An arrest is defined as taking a person in custody, in a case and the manner authorized by law.
  • An arrest may be made by a peace officer or by a private person.[43]
  • A party is liable for arrest when they authorize, encourage, direct or assist an officer to do an unlawful act, or procure an unlawful arrest, without process, or participate in the unlawful arrest, is liable for false arrest. [44]

A peace officer may arrest a person in obedience to a warrant.  Under California Penal Code Section 836, a peace officer may arrest a person without a warrant whenever any of the following circumstances occur:

  • The officer has probable cause to believe that the person arrested has committed a public offense in the officer’s presence;
  • The arrestee has committed a felony, although not in the officer’s presence; and
  • The officer has probable cause to believe that the person to be arrested has committed a felony, whether or not a felony has been committed. [45]

In a 1990 case, a deputy sheriff was not found liable for the false arrest and imprisonment of a pawnshop owner based on the owner’s refusal to give to the sheriff, in exchange for a receipt, an allegedly stolen ring which was displayed in plain view in a pawnshop case. [46]

The subsequent exoneration of an arrestee has no bearing on the validity of an arrest.[47]

Where an action for false arrest is based on an arrest without a warrant, all that need be alleged is the arrest without process, the imprisonment, and the damage.

It is not necessary to allege that the arrest was unlawful.

Where, however, the arrest is made with a warrant, then it is necessary to allege its unlawfulness by pleading the facts constituting the invalidity of the legal process. [48]

The following allegations were sufficient to plead a cause of action for false arrest: [49]

  • Defendants unlawfully arrested plaintiff without a warrant, and against his will took him to a locked room at the police department where at 3:00 a.m., without his consent, they admitted a large number of newspaper reporters and photographers who took photographs of the plaintiff;
  • Defendants then removed plaintiff to the city jail, and without permitting him to communicate with an attorney, kept him in a cell until they released him 3 days later; and
  • No charges were filed against the plaintiff either prior or after his arrest.

For pleading purposes, the plaintiff may allege arrest without a warrant. The plaintiff need not anticipate and negate all of the facts under which the warrantless arrest would be lawful. [50]

Following are other factors to consider when claiming false arrest by a police officer:

  • Police officers cannot claim that probable cause supports an arrest unless the facts available to the officers at the moment of the arrest would warrant a reasonable person to believe that an offense has been committed. [51]
  • Probable cause for an arrest is shown if a person of ordinary caution would be led to believe and conscientiously entertain a strong suspicion of the guilt of the accused. [52]
  • Officers who had received a report of a robbery and an identification of the robbers before stopping, handcuffing and transporting likely perpetrators to police headquarters, had probable cause to arrest and were therefore not liable for false arrest based on the inadequate investigation. [53]
  • The issue of probable cause is a question of law. [54]
  • When a peace officer or a private person makes a warrantless arrest, the person arrested must, without unnecessary delay, be taken before the nearest magistrate for the filing of charges. [55]
  • Ordinarily, an arrested person must be taken before a magistrate within 48 hours after his or her arrest, excluding Sundays and holidays. [56]
  • The delay of even a few hours before being taken before a magistrate may be deemed unnecessary. [57]
  • The duty to bring an arrestee before a magistrate without delay is even more imperative where the arrest is made without a warrant. [58]


False Arrest Caused by Private Citizen

A party is liable for false arrest when they authorize, encourage, direct or assist an officer to do an unlawful act, or procure an unlawful arrest without process, or participate in the unlawful arrest. [59]

A private citizen who assists in the making of an arrest under the requestor’s persuasion of a police officer is not liable for false arrest. [60]

A private person does not become liable for false arrest when in good faith he or she gives information to the proper authorities, even if the information is mistaken.

The information may be the principal cause of the plaintiff’s imprisonment. [61]

A defendant who took no active part in bringing about the arrest of the plaintiff could not be held liable for identifying to the best of his ability, the man he thought was the perpetrator of a crime. [62]

Defendants will not be liable unless they take an active role in bringing about the unlawful arrest. [63]

An allegation that police based the arrest on the false accusation was sufficient to plead causes in fact when an arrest is based on a false accusation by a third party. [64]

Where an arrest is based on a false accusation by a third party, the plaintiff must allege or show facts that the accusation was of a character that would foreseeably induce an arrest. [65]

An allegation that an arrest is made at the request and insistence of the defendants is sufficient to plead third party liability. [66]


FALSE IMPRISONMENT ELEMENT: APPRECIABLE LENGTH OF TIME

The confinement of the plaintiff must have been for an appreciable length of time.[67] These length of time were considered false imprisonment:

  • Ten (10) days [68]
  • Five (5) hours [69]
  • Four (4) hours [70]
  • Three (3) hours [71]
  • Forty (40) minutes [72]
  • Fifteen (15) minutes [73]

 

FALSE IMPRISONMENT REMEDIES

 

  • Nominal Damages [74]
  • Compensatory Damages
  • In addition to emotional distress damages, the plaintiff is entitled to compensation for other resulting harm.
    • This resulting harm may be loss of time, physical discomfort or inconvenience, any resulting physical illness or injury to health, business interruption and damage to reputation.[75]
    • Emotional Distress
  • A plaintiff can recover damages for extreme anxiety alone even if no physical or monetary harm is suffered.[76]
  • Punitive Damages [77]
  • Attorneys’ Fees [78]

A police officer’s liability for false arrest does not include damages caused by incarceration following the arrestee’s arraignment on formal charges. [79]

 

FALSE IMPRISONMENT STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS

The statute of limitations is one year. [80]

 

California Government Code §945.3 prohibits false arrest actions against a peace officer or public entity while related criminal charges are pending and tolls the statute of limitations during this period. [81]


AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSES TO FALSE IMPRISONMENT

  • Statute of Limitations
  • Consent

Although a lack of consent is an element of false imprisonment, consent is often pleaded as an affirmative defense. [82]

  • Immunity [83]
  • Peace Officer Immunity [84]
  • Public Officer or Employee Immunity [85]
  • Publication Privilege [86]
  • Freedom of Religion[87]
  • Parental Authority [88]









Legal Reference

[1] Molko v. Holy Spirit Ass’n, 46 Cal. 3d 1092, 1123; Scofield v. Critical Air Medicine, 45 Cal. App. 4th 990, 996.

[2] Cal. Penal Code §236; Fermino v. Fedco, Inc., 7 Cal. 4th 701, 715; Molko v. Holy Spirit Ass’n, 46 Cal. 3d 1092, 1123,.

[3] Asgari v. City of Los Angeles, 15 Cal. 4th 744, 752 n.3.

[4] (Moffatt v. Buffmums’, Inc., 21 Cal. App. 2d 371, 374);

[5] Vandiveer v. Charters, 110 Cal. App. 347, 351;

[6] Schanafelt v. Seaboard Finance Co., 108 Cal. App. 2d 420, 423);

[7] Cal. Penal Code §237; Molko v. Holy Spirit Ass’n, 46 Cal. 3d 1092, 1123;

[8] Restatement (Second) of Torts §40A).

[9] Sullivan v. County of Los Angeles, 12 Cal. 3d 710, 716.

[10] Scofield v. Critical Air Medicine, Inc., 45 Cal. App. 4th 990, 1003.

[11] Du Lac v. Perma Trans Products, Inc., 103 Cal. App. 3d 937, 945.

[12] Sullivan v. County of Los Angeles, 12 Cal. 3d 710, 714.

[13] Maben v. Rankin, 55 Cal. 2d 139, 144.

[14] Schanafelt v. Seaboard Finance Co., 108 Cal. App. 2d 420, 423.

[15] Scofield v. Critical Air Medicine, Inc., 45 Cal. App. 4th 990, 1000.

[16] Moffatt v. Buffams, Inc., 21 Cal. App. 2d 371, 374.

[17] Vandiveer v. Charters, 110 Cal. App. 347, 349.

[18] Moore v. San Francisco, 5 Cal. App. 3d 728, 735.

[19] Fermino v. Fedco, Inc., 7 Cal. 4th 701, 715.

[20] Wilson v. Houston Funeral Home, 42 Cal. App. 4th 1124, 1135.

[21] Molko v. Holy Spirit Ass’n, 46 Cal. 3d 1092, 1123.

[22] Snyder v. Evangelical Orthodox Church, 216 Cal. App. 3d 297, 304-05.

[23] Schanafelt v. Seaboard Finance Co., 108 Cal. App. 2d 420, 423.

[24] Moffat v. Buffams, Inc., 21 Cal. App. 2d 371, 375.

[25] Scofield v. Critical Air Medicine, Inc., 45 Cal. App. 4th 990, 1009.

[26] Scofield v. Critical Air Medicine, Inc., 45 Cal. App. 4th 990, 1009.

[27] Scofield v. Critical Air Medicine, Inc., 45 Cal. App. 4th 990, 1009.

[28] Fermino v. Fedco, 7 Cal. 4th 701, 716; Du Lac v. Perma Trans Products, Inc., 103 Cal. App. 3d 937, 944 (doctrine of transferred intent applies).

[29] See Fermino v. Fedco, 7 Cal. 4th 701, 716.

[30] Harden v. San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit Dist., 215 Cal. App. 3d 7, 16.

[31] Du Lac v. Perma Trans Products, Inc., 103 Cal. App. 3d 937, 942.

[32] Du Lac v. Perma Trans Products, Inc., 103 Cal. App. 3d 937, 944.

[33] Du Lac v. Perma Trans Products, Inc., 103 Cal. App. 3d 937, 944.

[34] Fermino v. Fedco, Inc., 7 Cal. 4th 701, 716.

[35] People v. Checketts, 71 Cal. App. 4th 1190, 1194-1195.

[36] Heater v. Southwood Psychiatric Center, 42 Cal. App. 4th 1068, 1081 (under former Welfare and Institutions Code §5150, the defendant was immune from liability).

[37] Alicia T. v. County of Los Angeles, 222 Cal. App. 3d 869, 883.

[38] Cervantez v. J.C. Penney Co., 24 Cal. 3d 579, 592.

[39] Muller v. Reagh, 215 Cal. App. 2d 831, 836.

[40] (see, e.g., Cervantez v. J.C. Penney Co., 24 Cal. 3d 579, 592; Dragna v. White, 45 Cal. 2d 469, 471-72; Ramsden v. Western Union, 71 Cal. App. 3d 873, 879.

[41] (see, e.g., Hamilton v. City of San Diego, 217 Cal. App. 3d 838, 845; Giannis v. City and County of San Francisco, 78 Cal. App. 3d 219, 225).

[42] (see, e.g., Dragna v. White, 45 Cal. 2d 469, 472; City of Newport Beach v. Sasse, 9 Cal. App. 3d 803, 806.

[43] Cal. Penal Code §834.

[44] Du Lac v. Perma Trans Products, Inc., 103 Cal. App. 3d 937, 941.

[45] Cal. Penal Code §836.

[46] Christians v. Chester, 218 Cal. App. 3d 273, 277.

[47] Gomez v. Garcia, 112 Cal. App. 3d 392, 399.

[48] Muller v. Reagh, 215 Cal. App. 2d 831, 836.

[49] in Dragna v. White, 45 Cal. 2d 469, 471.

[50] Du Lac v. Perma Trans Products, Inc., 103 Cal. App. 3d 937, 944.

[51] People v. Miller, 7 Cal. 3d 219, 225.

[52] People v. Fischer, 49 Cal. 2d 442, 446.

[53] Hamilton v. City of San Diego, 217 Cal. App. 3d 838, 845.

[54] Giannis v. City and County of San Francisco, 78 Cal. App. 3d 219, 225.

[55] Cal. Penal Code §849.

[56] Cal. Penal Code §825(a)(1).

[57] People v. Haydel, 12 Cal. 3d 190, 199.

[58] Dragna v. White, 45 Cal. 2d 469, 473.

[59] Du Lac v. Perma Trans Products, Inc., 103 Cal. App. 3d 937, 941.

[60] Peterson v. Robison, 43 Cal. 2d 690, 697.

[61] Peterson v. Robinson, 43 Cal. 2d 690, 695.

[62] Cole v. Johnson, 197 Cal. App. 2d 788, 792.

[63] Harden v. San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit Dist., 215 Cal. App. 3d 7, 16.

[64] Du Lac v. Perma Trans Products, Inc., 103 Cal. App. 3d 937, 943 n. 2.

[65] Du Lac v. Perma Trans Products, Inc., 103 Cal. App. 3d 937, 943.

[66] Ramsden v. Western Union, 71 Cal. App. 3d 873, 880 (defendants who knew the information they gave to police was false and knew that plaintiffs were innocent, yet insisted on plaintiffs’ arrest were not protected by good faith privilege).

[67] Molko v. Holy Spirit Ass’n, 46 Cal. 3d 1092, 1123.

[68] Sullivan v. County of Los Angeles, 12 Cal. 3d 710, 715.

[69] Moffat v. Buffams, Inc., 21 Cal. App. 2d 371, 374.

[70] Washington v. Farlice, 1 Cal. App. 4th 766, 774.

[71] Schanafelt v. Seaboard Finance Co., 108 Cal. App. 2d 420, 423.

[72] Gibson v. J.C. Penney Co., 165 Cal. App. 2d 640, 647.

[73] Alterauge v. Los Angeles Turf Club, 97 Cal. App. 2d 735, 736.

[74] (Cal. Civ. Code §3360; Scofield v. Critical Air Medicine, Inc., 45 Cal. App. 4th 990, 1007-08.

[75] (Cal. Civ. Code §3333; Scofield v. Critical Air Medicine, Inc., 45 Cal. App. 4th 990, 1009 (citing Prosser & Keeton, Torts §11, at 48-49 (5th ed. 1984))

[76] (Schanafelt v. Seaboard Finance Co., 108 Cal. App. 2d 420, 423.)

[77] Cal. Civ. Code §3294.

[78] Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §1021.

[79]Asgari v. City of Los Angeles, 15 Cal. 4th 744, 758.

[80] Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §340(3).

[81] Cal Gov’t Code §945.3.

[82] Snyder v. Evangelical Orthodox Church, 216 Cal. App. 3d 297, 304.

[83] Frazier v. Moffatt, 108 Cal. App. 2d 379, 384.

[84] Cal. Penal Code §847.

[85] Cal. Penal Code §836.5.

 [87] Molko v. Holy Spirit Ass’n, 46 Cal. 3d 1092, 1123.

[88] People v. Checketts, 71 Cal. App. 4th 1190.

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