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Law School Case Brief

Herbst v. Wuennenberg - 83 Wis. 2d 768, 266 N.W.2d 391 (1978)

Rule:

False imprisonment may not be predicated upon a person's unfounded belief that he was restrained. The essence of false imprisonment is the intentional, unlawful, and unconsented restraint by one person of the physical liberty of another. There is no cause of action unless the confinement is contrary to the will of the "prisoner." It is a contradiction to say that the captor imprisoned the "prisoner" with the "prisoner's" consent. An actor is subject to liability to another for false imprisonment if: (a) he acts intending to confine the other or a third person within boundaries fixed by the actor; and (b) his act directly or indirectly results in such a confinement of the other; and (c) the other is conscious of the confinement or is harmed by it. 

Facts:

Plaintiff volunteer election officials were inside a vestibule of an apartment building examining mailboxes for the purpose of purging voter registration lists.  A civil action for false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process was filed against defendant resident of the apartment building for blocking the doorway to exit the building, thereby preventing the officials from leaving the building. The resident claimed that the officials were trespassing and that she was looking out the doorway for the police, who were called by her husband. The jury awarded the officials actual damages based on a finding that the resident's actions constituted false imprisonment. The resident appealed.

Issue:

In plaintiff volunteer election officials' false imprisonment action against defendant apartment resident, was the evidence sufficient to support the conclusion that the resident's acts directly or indirectly resulted in a confinement of the officials, a required element of the cause of action for false imprisonment?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin reversed the trial court's judgment because the evidence did not support a finding that the plaintiff volunteer election officials were falsely imprisoned. Specifically, the evidence was not sufficient to support the conclusion that the resident's acts directly or indirectly resulted in a confinement of the officials, a required element of the cause of action for false imprisonment. False imprisonment may not be predicated upon a person's unfounded belief that he was restrained. Furthermore, the officials testified that the resident had not verbally threatened them, and because none of the officials asked the resident to step aside, it was speculation to conclude that the resident would have refused such a request or would have physically resisted.

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