False Imprisonment under Law of Torts

What is False Imprisonment under under Law of Torts?

Meaning of False Imprisonment: – False imprisonment is an act of restraint on another person which confines that person in a bounded area. False Imprisonment is defined as an act of the defendant which causes the unlawful confinement of the plaintiff. False imprisonment occurs when a person (who doesn’t have legal authority or justification) intentionally restrains another person’s ability to move freely. This can also be called unlawful imprisonment.

The factors which constitute false imprisonment are as follows: –

  1. There was a willful detention;
  2. The detention was without consent; and
  3. The detention was unlawful.
False Imprisonment under Law of Torts

A private individual, a police officer or any public authority can falsely imprison a person as well. For imprisonment it is not necessary that the person should be put behind bars, but he should be confined in such an area from where there are no possible ways of escape except the will of the person who is confining the person within that area. It is not the degree of the imprisonment that matters but it is the absence of lawful authority to justify unlawful confinement which is of relevance. False arrest is the arrest of the individual by the police officer or private person without lawful authority. Although we call it false arrest, it is a part of false imprisonment only. False arrest and false imprisonment are virtually indistinguishable except in their terminology and have been held by the courts as a single tort.

Under criminal law, whether the restraint is total or partial, the same is actionable. When the restraint is total and the person is prevented from going out of certain circumscribed limits, the offence is that of ‘wrongful confinement’ as defined in Section 340 of IPC. Under this, the Indian Penal Code punishes wrongful imprisonment. Section 339 to 348. When it comes to the police, proving false imprisonment is sufficient to obtain the writ of Habeas Corpus. It is not mandatory that the person should be put behind bars, but he should be confined in an area from which there are no possible ways of escape except the person’s will who has confined him. Depending on the laws of a particular jurisdiction, wrongful imprisonment can also be a crime, as well as intentional tort.

What are the elements of false imprisonment?

To prove a false imprisonment claim in a civil suit, the following elements must be present: –

  1. Wilful Detention: – False imprisonment or restraint must be intentional or wilful. Wilful detention applies to intentional restraint in any form, including physically restraining a person from exiting, physically locking him in a building, room, or from other places, and restraining him from leaving through force or intimidation. Accidentally closing the door when someone is on the other side is not a wrongful confinement or false imprisonment.
  1. Period of Confinement: – The tort of false imprisonment arises whatever may be the period of confinement. But the time period is of essence while determining the amount of compensation to be awarded to the injured party. An otherwise lawful detention may become unlawful if the detention is prolonged for an unreasonable period of time. Confinement for a very short period, say fifteen minutes is sufficient to create liability of false imprisonment. The period of confinement is generally of no relevance except in the estimation of damages.
  1. The Intention Factor: – Normally the tort of false imprisonment must be intentional. A person is not liable for false imprisonment unless his or her act is done for the purpose of imposing a confinement or with knowledge that such confinement, to a substantial certainty will result from it. for this tort. It is ordinarily upon the judges to determine from the evidence, as a question of fact, the intention of the defendant in an action for false imprisonment. 
  1. Knowledge of the Plaintiff: – There is no requirement that the plaintiff alleging false imprisonment was aware of the restraint on his freedom at the time of his confinement. If the person is confined in a room, with one of the entries known to the plaintiff closed, and the room has more than one entry-exit door, but the plaintiff has no knowledge about the same, the defendant will still be held liable. Thus, the person confined does not have to be aware of the confinement or be harmed by it as it is actionable per se.
  1. Place of Confinement: Any confinement in the ordinary sense whether be it prison or any place used temporarily for the purpose of confinement constitutes false imprisonment. It is enough that the plaintiff in any manner has been completely derived of his liberty, for any time, however short. Thus an action of false imprisonment may lie due to confinement in a mental institution, hospital, nursing home or juvenile home. A mere unlawful arrest, for example amounts to false imprisonment and so does the act by which a man is prevented from leaving the place in which he is: for example a house, a motor car, or a bank etc.

What are the defences of false imprisonment?

Common defenses pleaded in an action against false imprisonment are as follows: –

  1. Arrest under a Legal Authority: – It is a complete defense to a claim of false imprisonment, when the restraint or arrest is under legal authority or justification. When the defendant was exercising his/her legal rights and duties, the restraint or imprisonment is justified. If a person was detained due to lawful arrest or due to arrest under law, if they have probable cause to consider a person to have committed a felony, or engaged in wrongdoing.
  1. Voluntarily Consent to Confinement: – A person who consents to be restrained or confined without the presence of fraud or coercion or misconduct cannot subsequently claim to be a victim of false imprisonment. Therefore, voluntary consent to false imprisonment is often a defense to false imprisonment. Confinement constituting false imprisonment must be against plaintiff’s will. When a person voluntarily consents to the confinement, there can be no false imprisonment. Voluntary consent to confinement nullifies a claim of false imprisonment Hanna v. Marshall Field & Co., 279 Ill. App. 3d 784, 793 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 1996).
  1. Probable Cause to Effectuate the Arrest: – When probable cause is established by the action then false imprisonment and false arrest completely fails. It is stated that the probable cause test for imprisonment and arrest is an objective one, which is not based on the actual crime on the individuals, but on the basis of reliable facts or information which would lead a person to take the usual precautions as an offender. A defendant in an action of false imprisonment or false arrest has established a probable cause of alleged tort from which he has no additional obligation to prove it. Even if probable cause exists, malicious intent will not support a claim.
  1. Waiver of Right to Complain: – When a party is under arrest, any agreement or arrangement waiving any further proceedings, release and any claim for damages can be a defense for false imprisonment. The arrangement must be made fairly and intelligently. The waiver must not be procured by false representations, or by coercion Caffrey v. Drugan, 144 Mass. 294, 296 (Mass. 1887).
  1. Res Judicata: – In an action for false imprisonment, an issue determined in a prior proceeding can be taken as res judicata. An issue once decided will prevent a second judicial determination.
  1. Citizen’s Arrest: –In some instances, a person who is not a law enforcement official can make a “citizen’s arrest” by calling for a peace officer when a crime is committed or attempted in their presence, although this defense is not meant to give citizens the right to take the place of law enforcement.

What are the remedies for false imprisonment?

The main remedies for false imprisonment are as follows: –

  1. Action for Damages: – A person injured by conduct, either knowingly or negligently, is entitled to compensatory damages and has no duty to lessen the gravity of such damages. There is no legal rule for the assessment of damages and it is left entirely to the court. The basis of the damage includes injury and physical pain to the person, mental suffering and humiliation, loss of time earnings and interruptions in occupations, decrease in medical expenses, injury to reputation, etc. The arresting officer is liable for the loss of time caused by the false arrest for the time that the officer produced the person before the judicial officer and is not liable thereafter. False arrest damages should only be measured up to the time of indictment. However, where a continuity exists between an unlawful arrest and subsequent discharge of the accused, as a continuing unlawful act, the defendant is liable for all consequences resulting from the false arrest.
  1. Nominal and Compensatory Damages: – The general rule in an individual personal tort action is that the plaintiff is entitled to recover an amount that would be just and equitable, justifying an award for exemplary damages in the absence of circumstances. Mere unlawful detention constitutes the basis for the recovery of at least nominal damages, but an award of nominal damages only may be insufficient and flawed where the facts have proved that the right to greater damages. It is now held that the person can now be imprisoned without knowing it. In such cases the plaintiff can receive only nominal damages. Mental suffering including fear, shame and hatred of arrogance and humiliation, which results in wrongful detention, is generally considered an injury that can be compensated for an action of false arrest or false imprisonment. 
  1. Punitive, Exemplary and Aggravated Damages: – If an imprisonment is recklessly affected, extortion, dishonour, libel and malicious manner, the jury may go beyond the compensation rule and cause exemplary and punitive damages to the defendant as punishment. Punitive damages are being awarded in cases where the conduct of defendant is grossly indifferent to the rights of others or knowingly or reasonably violates those rights, and such damages are awarded to a deterrent. . Exemplary damage may be provided in certain circumstances when power is misused by the state. The increased damage may be awarded in a reasonable case when imprisoning one in a nominal character is offensive or the plaintiff’s feelings are hurt. Courts have often held that malice in the action of false imprisonment or false arrest will result in an award for exemplary or punitive damages. Punitive or exemplary damages will not be allowed where false imprisonment was brought in utmost good faith, without malice in law and where there is no element of oppression.
  1. Habeas Corpus: – This writ is considered an effective remedy for immediate release from wrongful detention, whether in jail or in private custody by English law. The Apex Court of India and the High Court of States issue this writ under Articles 32 and 226 respectively. It deals with cases of false arrest or prolonged detention by police officers. Subject to the rules laid down by the High Courts, a person may be imprisoned for or by any person on his behalf. The right of habeas corpus is an effective means of immediate release from unlawful detention, whether in prison or private custody. This writ is also used in criminal cases of false imprisonment. The decision will be that either the prisoner will be released or if the detention is proved than he will be produced before the court for a trial. Subject to the rules framed by the High Courts, an application for habeas corpus can be made by the person in confinement or by any person on his behalf.
  1. Self Help: – A person who has been detained unlawfully may use self-help to flee with reasonable force to protect himself from unlawful arrest. The force used must be proportional to the conditions. This is a risky method because the power of arrest depends not only in the commission of the crime, but in the alternative and in a reasonable doubt. So, if an innocent person finds a reasonable basis for their suspicion, then an innocent person who forcibly resists may be liable for battery.

Landmark cases under Wrongful Imprisonment

  1. Bhim Singh vs. State of Jammu and Kashmir

In this case, the petitioner, MLA of J&K was to participate in the Assembly meeting. His opponents in order to prevent him from attending the Assembly session got him arrested wrongfully with the help of some executives and police. The Magistrate also granted remand to police without compliance of the mandatory requirement of production of the accused in the Magistrate’s Court before reminding him to police custody. He was released after the Assembly session got over. The Supreme Court held the State liable for wrongful arrest and detention of the petitioner and ordered a compensation of Rs. 50,000 to be paid to the petitioner.

  1. D.K.Basu vs. State of West Bengal

In this case, the petitioners came up with important issues concerning the police powers and if monetary compensation should be awarded for established violation of Fundamental Rights, as under Article 21 and 22 of the Constitution. The court decided that Custodial violence, including torture and death in the lock ups, strikes a blow at the Rule of Law, which demands that the powers of the executive should not only be arose from law but also that the same should be limited by law. To check the abuse of police power, transparency of action and accountability were the two safeguards laid down by the court. 11 directives has been issued by the court where it spelled out the rights of an arrestee or a detainee and the manner in which the arresting or detaining authority is expected to behave, including the written record of arrest, informing of arrestee’s family of his arrest, medical examination on request, among others.

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