Torts I, Pages 51–52

Whittaker v. Sandford

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, 1912

Facts:

Plaintiff and her husband were a member of a religious sect in Tel Aviv. Defendant was the leader of this sect. Plaintiff decided to abandon the sect and return to America. While she and her four children were awaiting passage on a steamer, defendant offered her passage back on his yacht. When plaintiff told defendant she was afraid that he would not let her off until she was "won to the movement again," defendant assured her repeatedly that under no circumstances would she be detained on board. Plaintiff accepted this and sailed for America on the yacht.

Upon arriving in port, defendant would not give her a boat, saying it was up to her husband whether she could leave. When plaintiff raised the issue with her husband, he said it was up to defendant. She remained on board for nearly a month, during which time defendant and plaintiff's husband attempted to persuade her to rejoin the cult. On several occasions plaintiff was allowed to go to shore in the company of her husband but never alone. Finally, a sheriff released her after a write of habeas corpus.

Procedural History:

The jury returned a verdict in plaintiff's favor for $1100.

Issue:

Did defendant falsely imprison plaintiff?

Rule:

For false imprisonment, the restraint must be physical, but physical impediments are physical.

Reasoning:

The impassable sea is a physical barrier. By refusing plaintiff a boat, defendant is restraining her. Plaintiff had a personal right to decide whether or not to go to shore. It was not up to her husband.

Holding:

Yes, defendant falsely imprisoned plaintiff by denying her use of a boat.

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