False Imprisonment


False imprisonment is the act of restraining a person against his/her will in a bounded area without any justification.  False imprisonment generally refers to the confinement of a person without the consent of such person or without legal authority.  For example, if a person wrongfully prevents another from leaving a room or vehicle when that person wants to leave, it amounts to false imprisonment.

In Serra v. Lappin, 600 F.3d 1191 (9th Cir. Cal. 2010), the court stated that false imprisonment is the non-consensual, intentional confinement of a person, without lawful privilege, for an appreciable length of time, however short.

It was found in United States v. McMiller, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 8093 (3d Cir. Pa. Apr. 19, 2010), that false imprisonment under Georgia law is a crime of violence since false imprisonment involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another and therefore a Grade A violation under 18 USCS Appx § 7B1.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines.

Generally, false imprisonment is accompanied by force or threat of force, and a consent obtained by such force or threat of force is invalid.  Some states still recognize false imprisonment as a misdemeanor at common law.  False imprisonment is a common law misdemeanor and a tort.  False imprisonment applies to both private and governmental detention.  Few jurisdictions treat false imprisonment as kidnapping when the imprisonment is secret.

In Ameen v. Merck & Co., 226 Fed. Appx. 363 (5th Cir. Tex. 2007), the court stated that a detention may be accomplished by violence, by threats, or by any other means that restrains a person from moving from one place to another.  When a plaintiff alleges that the detention was accomplished by a threat, the plaintiff should demonstrate that the threat was such as would inspire in the threatened person a just fear of injury to his/her reputation, person, or property.  The essential elements of false imprisonment are:

  • Willful detention;
  • Without consent; and
  • Without authority of law.

In Forgie-Buccioni v. Hannaford Bros., Inc., 413 F.3d 175 (1st Cir. N.H. 2005), the court found that under New Hampshire law, false imprisonment is the unlawful restraint of an individual’s personal freedom.  When a defendant acts with the intent to restrain or confine a plaintiff within boundaries fixed by the defendant, defendant’s act directly or indirectly resulted in such restraint or confinement of the plaintiff, and the plaintiff was conscious of and harmed by the restraint or confinement, it constitutes a false imprisonment.  Therefore, confinement can be imposed by physical barriers or physical force.

Some courts often use the term “false imprisonment” and “false arrest” interchangeably.  Although the two terms are virtually identical, the difference lies in the manner in which they arise.   For committing false imprisonment, intent to make an arrest or even making an arrest is not necessary.  However, a falsely arrested person is at the same time falsely imprisoned.

In Davis v. Clark County Bd. of Comm’ns, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123638, 8-9 (S.D. Ohio Nov. 16, 2009), the court noted that false arrest is a species of false imprisonment and therefore the two torts can be collectively referred to as “false imprisonment.”  False imprisonment consists of detention without legal process.  Accordingly, false imprisonment ends once the victim becomes held pursuant to any process such as when s/he is bound over by a magistrate or arraigned on charges.  The damages for a false arrest and/or false imprisonment claim commence at the time of detention and come to an end upon the issuance of process or arraignment.

Inside False Imprisonment