The gist of the common law tort of false imprisonment is conduct by the actor which is intended to, and does in fact, confine another within boundaries fixed by the actor where, in addition, the victim is either conscious of the confinement or is harmed by it.
Plaintiffs sued defendants for false imprisonment. Defendants appealed denial of post-judgment motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial, and plaintiff cross-appealed dismissal of claims for punitive damages. Employees of defendant stopped plaintiffs as they were leaving the store, claiming plaintiff children had been previously caught shoplifting, and could not come back into the store. The employees detained plaintiffs until a security officer determined plaintiff children were not the children previously caught.
Does the conduct of the defendant constitute false imprisonment?
The court held plaintiffs established false imprisonment. The employees' actions have the possibility to induce reasonable people in believing that they would be physically restrained if they sought to leave, or defendant was claiming lawful authority to confine them.
While confinement can be imposed physically, much less that this standard would be sufficient, although how much less is not well delineated. It is generally settled that mere threats of physical force can suffice, and it is also settled that these threats may be implicit and explicit, and that confinement can also be based on a false assertion of legal authority to confine.