[Note: Numbers in brackets refer to the printed pages of
Understanding Torts by John L. Diamond, Lawrence Levine,
and M. Stuart Madden where the topic is discussed.]
Authors' Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all references to Restatement sections refer to Restatement (Second) of Torts.
PART A. INTENTIONAL TORTS AND PRIVILEGES
INTENTIONAL INTERFERENCES WITH PERSONS OR PROPERTY
[A] Overview and Definition
Intentional torts share the requirement that the defendant intentionally commit the elements that define the tort. Most contemporary courts adhere to the Restatement definition, which defines intent to mean either that the defendant desires or is substantially certain the elements of the tort will occur. [See Restatement § 8A; Garratt v. Dailey, 279 P.2d 1091 (Wash. 1955).]
[B] Transferred Intent
Under the transferred intent doctrine, accepted by many courts, intent can be transferred between five torts (battery, assault, false imprisonment, trespass to chattel, and trespass to land) and different victims within these five torts. For example, if A intends to assault B, but accidentally commits battery against B or another party C, A is liable for the battery. [See, e.g., Alteiri v. Colasso, 362 A.2d 798 (Conn. 1975).]
The Restatement does not adopt the doctrine generally, but does endorse transferred intent between assault and battery. [See Restatement §§ 13, 21.]
[C] The Mistake Doctrine
Under the mistake doctrine, if a defendant intends to do acts which would constitute a tort, it is no defense that the defendant mistakes, even reasonably, the identity of the property or person he acts upon or believes incorrectly there is a privilege. If, for example, A shoots B’s dog, reasonably believing it is a wolf, A is liable to B, assuming B has not wrongfully induced the mistake. [See, e.g., Ranson v. Kitner, 31 Ill. App. 241 (1888).]
Courts have applied the mistake doctrine to a variety of intentional torts. Nevertheless, in many instances actors benefit from specific privileges, such as self-defense, which protects the defendant from liability for reasonable mistakes, notwithstanding the mistake doctrine.
[D] Insanity and Infancy
Unlike in criminal law, neither insanity nor infancy is a defense for an intentional tort. [See, e.g., McGuire v. Almy, 8 N.E. 2d 760 (Mass. 1937).] However, intent is subjective and requires that the defendant actually desires or be substantially certain the elements of the tort will occur. Consequently, if the defendant is extremely mentally impaired or very young, she may not actually possess the requisite intent.
[A] Overview and Definition
Battery occurs when the defendant’s acts intentionally cause harmful or offensive contact with the victim’s person. [See Restatement §§ 13, 16, 18.] Accidental contact, by contrast, must be analyzed under negligence or strict liability.
[B] Intent Requirement
While battery requires intent, the prevailing tort definition does not require an intent to harm. It is only necessary that the defendant intend to cause either harmful or offensive contact. [See, e.g., Vosburg v. Putney, 50 N.W. 403 (Wis. 1891).] The transferred intent doctrine is applicable to battery. [See § 1.01 [B], supra.]
[C] Harmful or Offensive Contact
Battery encompasses either harmful or offensive contact. Even trivial offensive contact can constitute a battery.
The defendant's voluntary action must be the direct or indirect legal cause of the harmful or offensive contact. However, defendant need not herself actually contact the victim.
The ancient tort of assault represents the still controversial recognition that pure psychological injury should be compensable. [See I de S et Ux v. W de S, Y.B. Lib.Ass., fol. 99, pl. 60 (1348).]
Assault occurs when the defendant's acts intentionally cause the victim's reasonable apprehension of immediate harmful or offensive contact. The Restatement, unlike many courts, deletes the requirement that apprehension be “reasonable”. [See Restatement §§ 21, 27. See also, e.g., Castro v. Loral 1199, National Health & Human Service Employees Union, 964 F. Supp. 719 (1997).]
 Intent Requirement
Assault is an intentional tort. The defendant must desire or be substantially certain that her action will cause the apprehension of immediate harmful or offensive contact. The transferred intent doctrine is applicable to assault. [See § 1.01 [B], supra.]
The victim must perceive that harmful or offensive contact is about to happen to him. [See, e.g., Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Hill, 150 So. 709 (Ala. Ct. App. 1933).]
 Imminent Harmful or Offensive Contact
For assault to be actionable the victim's apprehension must be of imminent harmful or offensive contact. [See, e.g., Stump v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 942 F. Supp. 347 (E.D. Ky. 1996).]
 Fear versus Apprehension
The Restatement and several court decisions distinguish between "fear” and “apprehension.” The requisite apprehension of imminent contact need not produce fear in the victim. [See Restatement § 24 cmt. b.]
 Conditional Assault
An assault made conditional on the victim's noncompliance with an unlawful demand still constitutes an assault, even if the victim is confident no assault will actually occur if the victim complies with the unlawful request.
[A] Overview and Definition
In false imprisonment, the defendant unlawfully acts to intentionally cause confinement or restraint of the victim within a bounded area. Accidental confinement is not included and must be addressed under negligence or strict liability. [See Restatement §§ 35-45A.] The transferred intent doctrine is applicable to false imprisonment. [See § 1.01 [B], supra.]
[B] Bounded Area
The victim must be confined within an area bounded in all directions. The bounded area can be, however, a large area, even an entire city. [See, e.g., Allen v. Fromme, 126 N.Y.S. 520 (1910).]
[C] Means of Confinement or Restraint
For false imprisonment to exist, the victim must be confined or restrained. [See, e.g., Dupler v. Seubert, 230 N.W. 2d 626 (Wis. 1975).] The confinement may be accomplished by (1) physical barriers; (2) force or threat of immediate force against the victim, the victim's family or others in her immediate presence, or the victim's property; (3) omission where the defendant has a legal duty to act; or (4) improper assertion of legal authority.
The improper assertion of legal authority can unlawfully restrain a victim. This form of false imprisonment constitutes false arrest. The victim must submit to the arrest for it to constitute imprisonment. The arrest is improper if the actor imposing confinement is not privileged under the circumstances. [See Restatement § 41.]
[D] Consciousness of Confinement
False imprisonment requires that the victim be conscious of the confinement at the time of imprisonment. [See, e.g., Parvi v. City of Kingston, 362 N.E. 2d 960 (N.Y. 1977).] The Restatement § 42 modifies this requirement and would find liability for false imprisonment, even when the victim is not aware of the confinement, if the victim is harmed by the confinement. Contrary to the Restatement, some authorities hold a child can be subject to false imprisonment even if the child was neither aware of the confinement nor harmed. [See Kajtazi v. Kajtazi, 488 F. Supp. 15 (E.D. N.Y. 1978).]
Trespass to chattel and conversion are two separate intentional torts that protect personal property from wrongful interference. The two torts, which overlap in part, are derived from different historical origins. In many, but not all instances, both torts may be applicable.
[B] Definition of Trespass to Chattel
Trespass to chattel is the intentional interference with the right of possession of personal property. The defendant's acts must intentionally damage the chattel, deprive the possessor of its use for a substantial period of time, or totally dispossess the chattel from the victim. [See Restatement §§ 217, 218.]
Trespass to chattel does not require that the defendant act in bad faith or intend to interfere with the rights of others. It is sufficient that the actor intends to damage or possess a chattel which in fact is properly possessed by another. [See, e.g., Ranson v. Kitner, 31 Ill. App. 241 (1888).]
Historically, the doctrine of transferred intent has been applied to trespass to chattel (unlike conversion). [See § 1.01 [B], supra.]
[C] Definition of Conversion
The Restatement § 222A defines conversion as “an intentional exercise of dominion and control over a chattel which so seriously interferes with the right of another to control it that the actor may justly be required to pay the other the full value of the chattel.” [See, e.g., Moore v. Regents of the University of California, 793 P.2d 479 (Cal. 1990).]
Only very serious harm to the property or other serious interference with the right of control constitutes conversion. Damage or interference which is less serious may still constitute trespass to chattel.
Purchasing stolen property, even if the purchaser was acting in good faith and was not aware the seller did not have title, constitutes conversion by both the seller and innocent buyer.
Intentional infliction of mental distress exists when the defendant, by extreme and outrageous conduct, intentionally or recklessly causes the victim severe mental distress. Most states no longer require that the victim suffer physical manifestations of the mental distress. [See, e.g., State Rubbish Collectors Ass'n v. Siliznoff, 240 P.2d 282 (Cal. 1952).]
The Restatement defines extreme and outrageous conduct as behavior which is “beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” [Restatement § 46 cmt. d.] The vulnerability of the victim and the relationship of the defendant to the victim can be critical.
[B] Constitutional Limits
In Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988), the United States Supreme Court held unconstitutional the determination that a parody “advertisement” in Hustler magazine could result in liability under intentional infliction of emotional distress. The majority held that a public figure could not recover without proving such statements were made with New York Times malice, i.e., with “knowledge or reckless disregard toward the truth or falsity” of the assertion. [See New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).] As the parody was never asserted to be truthful, and as it would not reasonably be interpreted as truthful by an ordinary reader, the court found there could be no liability.
[C] Intent or Recklessness to Cause Severe Mental Distress
For recovery under intentional infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant intended to cause severe emotional distress or acted with reckless disregard as to whether the victim would suffer severe distress. Although characterized as an “intentional” tort, recklessness, in addition to intent, generally suffices for liability. [See Restatement § 46 cmt. i.]
[D] Third Party Recovery
Intentional infliction of mental distress is not one of the five historic intentional torts that transfers intent between these torts and between victims. [See § 1.01 [B], supra.]
Courts have usually awarded a third-party victim recovery only if, in addition to proving the elements of the tort, she is (1) a close relative of the primary victim; (2) present at the scene of the outrageous conduct against the primary victim; and (3) the defendant knows the close relative is present. [See Taylor v. Vallelunga, 339 P.2d 910 (Cal. Ct. App. 1959).] The Restatement is somewhat less restrictive, requiring only that a primary victim's immediate family members be present and can prove the elements of the tort. Non-relatives who satisfy the elements of the tort can also recover under the Restatement if they are present and suffer physical manifestation of severe distress. [Restatement § 46 cmt. 1.] The Restatement's more permissive requirements have not received general explicit judicial acceptance.
[E] Exception for Common Carriers and Innkeepers
Common carriers and innkeepers are liable for intentional gross insults which cause patrons to suffer mental distress. [See, e.g., Slocum v. Food Fair Stores of Florida, 100 So. 2d 396 (Fla. 1958).] There is no requirement the defendant behave in an extreme or outrageous manner or that the victim suffer extreme distress.