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Chapter 27: False Imprisonment

§27.1 Generally

The Case: Newsom v. Thalhimer Bros., Inc ., 901 S.W.2d 365 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1994).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiff, an employee of Defendant's store, was accused of theft. She sued on several theories, including false imprisonment.

The Bottom Line:

  • "False imprisonment is the intentional restraint or detention of another without just cause. Brown [v. SCOA Indus., Inc., 741 S.W.2d 916 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997)], at 919. The elements of the tort of false imprisonment are (1) the detention or restraint of one against his will and (2) the unlawfulness of such detention or restraint. Coffee v. Peterbilt of Nashville, Inc., 795 S.W.2d 656, 659 (Tenn. 1990)." 901 S.W.2d at 367.
  • "In the case before us, the single issue presented by this appeal is whether plaintiff's proof rises to the level of creating a jury question as to whether defendants restrained her. Plaintiff voluntarily accompanied a superior employee to the manager's office. During the course of her interrogation, neither McCoy nor McIntyre used any force or made any threats against her. Plaintiff testified that she made no attempt to leave the office, but that she felt compelled to remain by virtue of McCoy's and McIntyre's statements that if she did leave the office they would call the police. In our opinion, this evidence does not present a jury issue as to a detention." Id.
  • "Our research has presented no reported case in this state involving the alleged detention of an employee under the same or similar circumstances. We have, however, found cases from other jurisdictions to support the conclusion that we have reached. Martin v. Santora, [199 So.2d 63 (Miss. 1967)], an employee of Gibson's Discount Store was interrogated by management concerning a theft of some merchandise. During the interrogation, she was requested by the store manager to accompany the police to the police station for the purpose of fingerprinting as part of the store's effort to ascertain who had committed the theft. She testified that she was taken to police headquarters, fingerprinted and returned to the store where she worked until she was relieved. She further testified that she thought she was under arrest." Id.
  • "In reversing and dismissing the judgment of the trial court on a false imprisonment charge in favor of plaintiff, the Mississippi Supreme Court stated:
    In order to constitute an unlawful imprisonment, where no force or violence is actually employed, the submission of the plaintiff must be to a reasonably apprehended force. The circumstances merely that one considers himself restrained in his person is not sufficient to constitute false imprisonment unless it is shown that there was a reasonable ground to have believed defendant would resort to force if plaintiff attempted to assert her right to freedom.
    Id . at 65." Id. at 367-68.
  • "We concur with and adopt the conclusion reached by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Faniel v. Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., [404 A.2d 147-52 (D.C. 1979)]:
    [I]t is not enough for plaintiff to feel 'mentally restrained' by the actions of the defendant. The evidence must establish a restraint against the plaintiff's will, as where she yields to force, to the threat of force or to the assertion of authority.
    Id . at 151-52 (citations omitted)." Id. at 368.

Other Sources of Note: Roberts v. Essex Microtel Associates, II, L.P ., 46 S.W.3d 205 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000) (the provision of information to a police officer who then restrains the plaintiff does not give rise to an action against the speaker for false imprisonment).

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

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