Legal Memorandum: False Arrest and Imprisonment in NY

Issue: Under New York law, what must a plaintiff show in order to properly establish a cause of action for false arrest and imprisonment?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: False arrest and imprisonment; Cause of action
Jurisdiction: New York
Cited Cases: 204 A.D.2d 924; 193 A.D.2d 311; 201 A.D.2d 525; 57 A.D.2d 680; 173 A.D.2d 155; 59 A.D.2d 1000; 182 A.D.2d 200; 117 A.D.2d 789
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 02/01/2001

New York law is well-settled that a plaintiff only establishes a cause of action for false imprisonment if he or she shows: "(1) the defendant intended to confine [the plaintiff], (2) the plaintiff was conscious of the confinement, (3) the plaintiff did not consent to the confinement and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged."  Broughton v. Schanbarger, 37 N.Y.2d 451, 457 (1975).

An arrest without a warrant is nevertheless a privileged confinement if the defendant had legal justification.   Id. at 458. "Justification may be established by showing that the arrest was based on probable cause." Id.; accord Toenis v. Hommel, 59 A.D.2d 1000 (3d Dep’t 1977) (holding that summary judgment was properly granted in the defendants’ favor, because the officer reasonably believed the citizens who identified the plaintiffs).  The question for the court is whether probable cause for the arrest existed at the time of the arrest.  Broughton, 37 N.Y.2d at 459; Coleman v. City of New York, 182 A.D.2d 200 (1st Dep’t 1992).  Thus, in resolving the issue of whether probable cause existed at the time of the arrest, it is improper for the court to look to subsequent probable cause proceedings, Broughton, 37 N.Y.2d at 458, or subsequent determinations of the plaintiff’s guilt in the underlying crime, Coleman, 182 A.D.2d at 200 (reasoning that it did not matter, for purposes of determining whether probable cause existed in false imprisonment case, whether the plaintiff had actually committed the underlying crime).  […]

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