Citation. Bird v. United States, 130 L. Ed. 2d 540, 513 U.S. 1041, 115 S. Ct. 635, 63 U.S.L.W. 3437 (U.S. Dec. 5, 1994)
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Brief Fact Summary.
Jones (Defendant) prohibited Bird (Plaintiff) from moving in the direction he wished to go. Plaintiff was free to remain where he was, or move in any other direction but the one direction obstructed by Defendant. Plaintiff sued Defendant for false imprisonment.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A prison may have boundaries that are large or narrow, visible or tangible, movable or fixed, but it must have some boundary.
Plaintiff was on the highway and wanted to continue along it. Part of the public highway was closed for spectators who paid to see a boat race. Defendant restricted Plaintiff from passing on wards in the direction in which he declared he wished to go. Plaintiff was allowed to remain unmolested where he was. Although obstructed from continuing forward, Plaintiff was at liberty to move in any other direction. Plaintiff sued Defendant for false imprisonment. The jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff. Defendant appealed.
Is prohibiting a person from moving in one direction, when all other directions are unobstructed, enough to constitute a boundary for the tort of false imprisonment?
No. Defendant’s request for a new trial was granted.
* A prison may have boundaries that are large or narrow, visible or tangible, movable or fixed, but it must have some boundary. In this case, Defendant only prohibits Plaintiff from moving in one set direction. In order to maintain an action for false imprisonment, Plaintiff must be confined to a boundary. In this case, Defendant caused Plaintiff to suffer a loss of freedom. Imprisonment is something more than the loss of freedom. Imprisonment includes the notion of restraint within some limits defined by a will or power exterior to our own. In this case, Plaintiff was not constrained to any determinable boundary.
(Chief Justice Lord Denman) The dissent had no idea that a particular boundary would to be necessary to constitute imprisonment. The liberty to do something else does not appear to affect the question of imprisonment. As long as one is prevented from doing what one have a right to do, of what importance is it that one permitted to do something else?
In order to have a claim for false imprisonment, the Plaintiff must have been confined to some boundary, whether it be tangible or intangible. In this case, Plaintiff was not restrained to a bounded area. Plaintiff still had the option to remain in one spot or proceed in a different direction. Defendant only prevented Plaintiff from continuing in one specific direction. Plaintiff may have suffered a loss of freedom, but this loss of freedom did not constitute false imprisonment.