False Imprisonment Question

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False Imprisonment Question

Postby TTH » Sun Aug 29, 2010 7:26 pm

I'm having a hard time distinguishing two cases in which retention of plaintiff's property allows (or doesn't allow) for an action for false imprisonment to lie. If someone's got a second, mind helping me out?

Marcano v. Northwestern Chrysler-Plymouth Sales
P went to D to discuss a dispute over payments. P gives keys to D to inspect car. D locks the car and keeps the keys, P alleged she could not leave b/c she had no transportation and lived 40 miles away. Court rules for D b/c there was no intention of D to confine her personally, but only to keep the car.

Fischer v. Famous-Barr
P sets off a security alarm in a store. Salesperson orders P to give her the bag, then orders P to come with her back to the sales counter to inspect her bag. P felt she had to follow the employee back to the 4th floor where she made her purchases. Also, employee spoke to P "roughly." Court ruled for D. On appeal, P was granted a new trial b/c the verdict was against the weight of the evidence.

It seems to me that the P in Fischer could have left without the bag just the same as P could have left without her car. Is it the fact that the salesperson used rough language and told P she "had" to come with her that makes it False Imprisonment?


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Re: False Imprisonment Question

Postby paulski311 » Sun Aug 29, 2010 7:53 pm

Re: Fischer

The opinion states:
"In the instant case, the evidence on record shows that plaintiff was on her way down the escalator when she was stopped by defendant's employee and ordered to return to the fourth floor sales desk. Plaintiff did not go voluntarily or willingly with defendant's employee. Although no actual force was used other than a tap on the shoulder, it may be inferred that the harsh words of defendant's employee, her possession of the bag containing plaintiff's purchases, and plaintiff's belief that she must return to the fourth floor were sufficient to operate on plaintiff's will and to restrain her personal liberty. Accordingly, plaintiff made a submissible case of false imprisonment and defendant's second point is denied."

It appears that the 74 year old woman did not willingly go with Defendant employee, thus triggering the false imprisonment. The employee made her go upstairs (although not physically) against her will.

In Marcano, the dealership simply took her car... They did not force her to stay at the dealership or there were plenty of exits for her to leave or call a cab. Simply making it harder for someone to leave is not false imprisonment.

Hope that helps!

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Re: False Imprisonment Question

Postby happy187 » Sun Aug 29, 2010 8:11 pm

To me it comes down to the intent in each case.

Whereas the first case the intent ion seizing the property is to hold the car, the person if free to go as she pleases. As already stated she could have called a cab, friend, taken a bus.

In the second case the seizing of the property is in order to keep the person. Thus FI (assuming the second requirement of it being an unlawful restraint is meet).

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Re: False Imprisonment Question

Postby nealric » Sun Aug 29, 2010 11:55 pm

The black letter law for false imprisonment is something like (don't remember the exact wording):
The defendant must confine the plaintiff to a bounded area by force or the threat thereof.

In the first case, the plaintiff was not confined to a bounded area- and was indeed not ordered to stay within an area. She had a reasonable means of exit from the situation.
In the second case, the plaintiff faced an implicit threat of force and direct pecuniary loss if she failed to comply with the order.

The bottom line is that the plaintiff has to be kept in a specific area, and has to have no reasonable means of escape. On the bar exam, they were fond of putting the plaintiff in a room with an exit, but the exit would have required the plaintiff to do something particularly disgusting such as crawl through a sewer pipe- that's still false imprisonment because the means of escape wasn't reasonable.

Keep in mind that cases like the ones you described may not turn out the same in every jurisdiction. They give you fine threshold cases in law school because they are trying to get you to think through the reasoning that goes into such a case.

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