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Fermino v. Fedco, Inc. - 7 Cal. 4th 701, 30 Cal. Rptr. 2d 18, 872 P.2d 559 (1994)

Rule:

The crime of false imprisonment is defined by Cal. Penal Code § 236 as the "unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another." The tort is identically defined. The tort consists of the nonconsensual, intentional confinement of a person, without lawful privilege, for an appreciable length of time, however short. That length of time can be as brief as 15 minutes. Restraint may be effectuated by means of physical force, threat of force or of arrest, confinement by physical barriers, or by means of any other form of unreasonable duress. 

Facts:

Appellant employee was interrogated in a windowless room by the respondent employer's personnel manager and security guards, and confined there against her will for over an hour.  Alleging that an employee subject to false imprisonment at the hands of her employer, the employee sued the employer in a civil action. The trial court sustained respondent employer's demurrer on the grounds that the suit was barred by the exclusivity provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act. Cal. Labor Code §§ 3600 & 3602. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The employee sought further review from the Supreme Court of California.

Issue:

Did an employee have a cause of action for false imprisonment against an employer?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of California reversed the lower courts, and held that there are some instances in which, although the injury arose in the course of employment, the employer engaged in conduct outside of its proper role or engaged in conduct of questionable relationship to the employment relationship. The court defined false imprisonment as an unreasonable and criminal confinement. The court held that when an employer forcibly and criminally deprived an employee of her liberty, even as a means to otherwise legitimate ends, it stepped outside its "proper role," whether it used assault and battery to enforce that false imprisonment, or employed some other coercive stratagem. The court ruled that false imprisonment committed by an employer against an employee is always outside the scope of the compensation bargain and therefore actionable in tort.

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