Big Town Nursing Home, Inc. v. Newman
Court of Civil Appeals of
461 S.W.2d 195.
Prosser, p. 37-38
Facts: Newman was admitted to the defendantís nursing home.† Newman decided he wanted to leave and made several attempts to do so.† He was forcibly restrained by the defendants.† There was no court order for him to be restrained.
Issue: Did the nursing home falsely imprison Newman?† If so, is the nursing home liable for exemplary (punitive) damages?
Rule: False imprisonment occurs when one person directly restrains another personís physical freedom without legal justification.† Punitive damages can be awarded if the defendant intentionally violates the rights of the plaintiff.
Analysis: This is pretty cut and dried.† If the plaintiff was crazy or had agreed to be committed somehow, the nursing home could argue that they had some legal justification.
Conclusion: The court upheld the verdict, but declared the damages excessive and reduced them through a process called a remittitur.
Notes and Questions:
1. The defendant has legal justification if his race track is private property.† You ought to be able to choose who gets on your property and who doesnít.† I guess it would make a difference whether or not the ticket had the typical fine print saying ďwe reserve the right to deny entry anytime to anybody for any reasonĒ.† If the exclusion is on the basis of race, it might be false imprisonment because youíre physically keeping the person from getting into the race track but your justification is no longer legal.† Then again, you still might be able to say that the racial discrimination plus the legitimate power to keep people off your private property equates to ďadequate legal justificationĒ.
1. It seems like based on the letter of the law there is no distinction made between forcibly keeping someone out of a place versus forcibly keeping them in.† Common sense would suggest, however, that when we talk about imprisonment we mean youíre being locked in somewhere.
2. I think there certainly could be false imprisonment in a moving automobile.† If you get in a cab and the cab driver refuses to let you out even though you paid and everything, it would be false imprisonment even if you were moving.† I suppose false imprisonment would be possible in an entire city, but I donít see how it would be possible for a defendant to physically keep the plaintiff in the city while allowing them to move around the city.† Same with a whole state, because there arenít border guards at state borders.† If it were the whole country, it would be more realistic, since to get in or out of this country you have to pass through some kind of security.
3. This seems pretty logical.† If I lock one door but leave another open, I canít be said to be imprisoning you.
4. Iím glad I donít have to escape by crawling through a sewer.
5. Iím glad I donít have to escape through an exit Iím not aware of.
6. I donít think this means that you couldnít recover for false imprisonment, itís just that if you try to escape itís at your own risk if you could just as well stay.
7. A defendant double-parking wouldnít result in false imprisonment because there was no intent to deprive the plaintiff of their freedom of movement.† I think the defendant would only be liable for negligence so far as the benefit from arriving at the meeting by car exceeded the benefit of arriving, for example, by cab or by walking.