False imprisonment is defined as the unlawful restraint of an individual’s personal liberty or freedom of movement[i]. It is the illegal restraint of one’s person against his/her will[ii]. The tort of false imprisonment involves an unlawful restraint on freedom of movement or personal liberty. In order to establish false imprisonment, two essential elements must be proven. They are:
- Detention or restraint against a person’s will,
- Unlawfulness of the detention or restraint.
The elements to be considered by the jury in awarding compensatory damages in a false imprisonment case are physical suffering, mental suffering and humiliation, loss of time and interruption of business, reasonable and necessary expenses incurred, and injury to reputation[iii].
Similarly, in Pitts v. State, 51 Ill. Ct. Cl. 29 (Ill. Ct. Cl. 1999), it was observed that the principal element of damages in an action for false imprisonment is the loss of freedom, although a court also takes into account, to a modest degree, the fear and nervousness suffered as a result of the detention.
In order to constitute false imprisonment, there must be an exercise of force, or express or implied threat of force, by which a person is deprived of his/her liberty and compelled to remain where s/he does not wish to remain[iv]. The restraint of a person can be caused by threats, as well as by actual force and the threats can be by conduct or by words[v]. It is not necessary that the threat of force in an action for false imprisonment be express. It can also be implied in nature.
However, mere threats of future actions will not constitute false imprisonment. It is the apprehension or fear by which a person is restrained of liberty that can cause a false imprisonment[vi].
It is to be noted that assault is also considered one of the elements of false imprisonment. However, it is not necessary that an individual be actually confined or assaulted, or even that s/he must be touched[vii].
Likewise, actual malice or bad motive are not recognized as essential elements of an action for false imprisonment[viii]. The element that is necessary to make such a charge is that an individual is restrained of his/her liberty without any sufficient legal cause[ix]. However, under certain jurisdictions, malice is considered an element for false imprisonment.
Similarly, lack of probable cause is not recognized as an essential element of the action for false imprisonment. At the same time, some courts require the parties to show probable cause. The presence of probable cause for imprisonment is a defense if it constitutes reasonable grounds for acting in defense of property or making an arrest without a warrant[x].
The question of false imprisonment is a combined question of law and fact. It is a question of law for the court to decide what facts will constitute false imprisonment and a question of fact for the jury, whether such facts is necessary to make it a false imprisonment under the law as settled by the court[xi].
[i] Pechulis v. City of Chicago, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11856 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 7, 1997).
[ii] Hoffman v. Clinic Hospital, Inc., 213 N.C. 669 (N.C. 1938).
[iii] Jenkins v. Pic-n-Pay Shoes, Inc., 1985 Tenn. LEXIS 536 (Tenn. July 15, 1985).
[iv] Harris v. Stanioch, 150 Wash. 380 (Wash. 1928).
[vi] Roberts v. Coleman, 228 Ore. 286 (Or. 1961).
[vii] Hales v. McCrory-McLellan Corp., 260 N.C. 568 (N.C. 1963).
[viii] Broughton v. State, 37 N.Y.2d 451 (N.Y. 1975).
[ix] Adair v. Williams, 24 Ariz. 422 (Ariz. 1922).
[x] Aiken v. Holyoke S. R. Co., 184 Mass. 269, 271 (Mass. 1903).
[xi] Vandiveer v. Charters, 110 Cal. App. 347 (Cal. App. 1930).