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False Imprisonment in New York

A while back, I put out a video on my Youtube channel about the Shopkeeper’s Privilege in California. In short, this is a justification that the proprietor of a business (e.g. a store) can use to detain someone they believe is committing a theft (e.g. shoplifting). Normally, detaining someone could be considered False Imprisonment and is something that the person who has been falsely imprisoned could be sued for. I learned about the Shopkeeper’s Privilege in law school in California, but the concept exists in other states also. I wrote about the New York Shopkeeper’s Privilege in a recent post and how it’s codified in statute, specifically n New York, for example, it’s Section 218 of the New York General Business Law.

In this post, I’m going to describe the antecedent tort to Shopkeeper’s Privilege, namely what False Imprisonment involves. This post will specifically be about the False Imprisonment in New York. I’ll put out a subsequent post about how the tort of False Imprisonment is defined in California law.

As with most things in law — I’m speaking generally and not specifically about California or New York — the tort of False Imprisonment has various criteria. If you are the plaintiff and you satisfy those criteria (e.g. your witnesses, evidence, etc are sufficient), you win. Keep in mind, however, that the defendant in your case will do everything in his/her power to show that your evidence not only doesn’t meet the criteria, but that the evidence shows precisely the opposite. In other words, you as the plaintiff haven’t come even remotely close to satisfying the criteria required to win.

Anyway, in New York, the tort of False Imprisonment is sometimes called False Arrest as well. The criteria are the same, namely:

  • the defendant intended to confine plaintiff,
  • the plaintiff was aware of the confinement,
  • the plaintiff did not consent to the confinement, and
  • the confinement was not otherwise privileged.

There are a bunch of New York cases that go over these criteria. In my cursory search, three of them that I found were (1) Torres v. Jones (26 NY 3d 742), (2) Martinez v. Schenectady (97 NY 2d 78), and (3) Holland v. Poughkeepsie (90 AD 3d 841), but there are a bunch more. Your search will likely vary.

These criteria are, of course, only the basic high-level version of the tort. In the real world, applying these criteria to an actual case means trying to parse things like whether plaintiff’s actions and speech really show that he was aware of his confinement or whether the privilege to imprison actually applies given the facts shown.

As always, I hope this post was helpful. It is not meant to be a comprehensive discussion about the tort of False Imprisonment in New York. Please do your own research to see if the information I relayed above is, for instance, still current as of the date you read this post. If you have a situation where you believe you have been falsely imprisoned by someone, please do find a lawyer in your area with whom you can discuss your situation. Finally, as with my other posts about New York law, I do not currently maintain an office in New York so, per Section 470 of the New York Judiciary Law, I am not permitted to take clients who live in New York state.


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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.

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