Main Content

Main Content

Zittrain Torts Playlist Spring 2013

Donald C. Parvi, Appellant, v. City Of Kingston, Respondent, et al., Defendants.

Headnote

Can an otherwise-consented-to action become false imprisonment if the plaintiff no longer wants it? Police transported the drunken plaintiff to an abandoned golf course outside of the city so he could “dry out”. During the car ride to the golf course, plaintiff requested to be let out at a different location. Plaintiff was severely injured when he walked out onto the highway, still intoxicated, in an attempt to return home. At trial, plaintiff admitted that he could no longer recall the car ride.

1

394 N.Y.S.2d 161

2

41 N.Y.2d 553, 362 N.E.2d 960

3

Donald C. PARVI, Appellant,
v.
CITY OF KINGSTON, Respondent, et al., Defendants.

4

Court of Appeals of New York.

5

April 5, 1977.

6

[394 N.Y.S.2d 162] David M. Barnovitz, Kingston, for appellant.

7

Francis X. Tucker and Vernon Murphy, Kingston, for respondent.

8

FUCHSBERG, Justice.

9

This appeal brings up for review the dismissal, at the end of the plaintiff's case, of two causes of action, both of which arise out of the same somewhat unusual train of events. One is for false imprisonment and the other for negligence. The judgment of dismissal was affirmed by the Appellate Division by a vote of three to two. The issue before us, as to each count, is whether a prima facie case was made out. We believe it was.

10

Bearing in mind that, at the procedural point at which the case was decided, the plaintiff was entitled to the benefit of the most favorable inferences that were to be drawn from the record (Andersen v. Bee Line, 1 N.Y.2d 169, 172, l51 N.Y.S.2d 633, 634, 134 N.E.2d 457, 458; 10 Carmody-Wait 2d, N.Y. Prac., § 70:359, p. 627 et seq.), we turn at once to the proof. In doing so, for the present we rely in the main on testimony plaintiff adduced from the defendant's own employees, especially since plaintiff's own recollection of the events was less than satisfactory.

11

Sometime after 9:00 p.m. on the evening of May 28, 1972, a date which occurred during the Memorial Day weekend, two poli officers employed by the defendant City of Kingston responded in a radio patrol car to the rear of a commercial building in that city where they had been informed some individuals were acting in a boisterous manner. Upon their arrival, they found three men, one Raymond Dugan, his brother Dixie Dugan and the plaintiff, Donald C. Parvi. According to the police, it was the Dugan brothers who alone were then engaged in a noisy quarrel. When the two uniformed officers informed the three they would have to move on or be locked up, Raymond Dugan ran away; Dixie Dugan chased after him unsuccessfully and then returned to the scene in a minute or two; Parvi, who the police testimony shows had been trying to calm the Dugans, remained where he was.

12

In the course of their examinations before trial, read into evidence by Parvi's counsel, the officers described all three as exhibiting, in an unspecified manner, evidence that they "had been drinking" and showed "the effects of alcohol". They went on to relate how, when Parvi and Dixie Dugan said they had no place to go, the officers ordered them into the police car and, pursuing a then prevailing police "standard operating procedure", transported the two men outside the city limits to an abandoned golf course located in an unlit and isolated area known as Coleman Hill. Thereupon the officers drove off, leaving Parvi and Dugan to "dry out". This was the first time Parvi had ever been there. [394 N.Y.S.2d 163] En route they had asked to be left off at another place, but the police refused to do so.

13

No more than 350 feet from the spot where they were dropped off, one of the boundaries of the property adjoins the New York State Thruway. There were no intervening fences or barriers other than the low Thruway guardrail intended to keep vehicular traffic on the road. Before they left, it is undisputed that the police made no effort to learn whether Parvi was oriented to his whereabouts, to instruct him as to the route back to Kingston, where Parvi had then lived for 12 years, or to ascertain where he would go from there. From where the men were dropped, the "humming and buzzing" of fast-traveling, holiday-bound automobile traffic was clearly audible from the Thruway; in their befuddled state, which later left Parvi with very little memory of the events, the men lost little time in responding to its siren song. For, in an apparent effort to get back, by 10:00 p.m. Parvi and Dugan had wandered onto the Thruway, where they were struck by an automobile operated by one David R. Darling. Parvi was severely injured, Dugan was killed. (Parvi elected not to appeal from the dismissal of his cause of action against Darling, who originally had been joined as an additional defendant.)

14

The cause of action for false imprisonment

15

With these facts before us, we initially direct our attention to Parvi's cause of action for false imprisonment. Only recently, we had occasion to set out the four elements of that tort in Broughton v. State of New York, 37 N.Y.2d 451, 456, 373 N.Y.S.2d 87, 93, 335 N.E.2d 310, 314, where we said that "the plaintiff must show that: (1) the defendant intended to confine him, (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".

16

Elements (1) and (3) present no problem here. When the plaintiff stated he had no place to go, he was faced with but one alternative arrest. This was hardly the stuff of which consent is formed, especially in light of the fact that Parvi was, in a degree to be measured by the jury, then under the influence of alcohol. It is also of no small moment in this regard that the men's request to be released at a place they designated was refused. Moreover, one of the policemen testified that his fellow officer alone selected the location to which Parvi was taken; indeed, this was a place to which the police had had prior occasion to bring others who were being "run out of town" because they evidenced signs of intoxication. Further, putting aside for the time being the question of whether such an arrest would have been privileged, it can hardly be contended that, in view of the direct and willful nature of their actions, there was no proof that the police officers intended to confine Parvi.

17

Element (2), consciousness of confinement, is a more subtle and more interesting subissue in this case. On that subject, we note that, while respected authorities have divided on whether awareness of confinement by one who has been falsely imprisoned should be a sine qua non for making out a case (Barker v. Washburn, 200 N.Y. 280, 93 N.E. 958; Robalina v. Armstrong, 15 Barb. 247; Herring v. Boyle, 1 Cr.M. & R. 377, 149 Eng. Rep. 1126; Meering v. Grahame White Aviation Co., 122 L & T 44; see Halpern, Intentional Torts and the Restatement, 7 Buffalo L.Rev. 7; Prosser, False Imprisonment: Consciousness of Confinement, 55 Col.L.Rev. 847), Broughton, supra, 37 N.Y.2d p. 456, 373 N.Y.S.2d p. 92, 335 N.E.2d p. 313 has laid that question to rest in this State. Its holding gives recognition to the fact that false imprisonment, as a dignitary tort, is not suffered unless its victim knows of the dignitary invasion. Interestingly, the Restatement of Torts 2d ( § 42 too has taken the position that there is no liability for intentionally confining another unless the person physically restrained knows of the confinement or is harmed by it.

18

[394 N.Y.S.2d 164] However, though correctly proceeding on that premise, the Appellate Division, in affirming the dismissal of the cause of action for false imprisonment, erroneously relied on the fact that Parvi, after having provided additional testimony in his own behalf on direct examination, had agreed on cross that he no longer had any recollection of his confinement. In so doing, that court failed to distinguish between a later recollection of consciousness and the existence of that consciousness at the time when the imprisonment itself took place. The latter, of course, is capable of being proved though one who suffers the consciousness can no longer personally describe it, whether by reason of lapse of memory, incompetency, death or other cause. Specifically, in this case, while it may well be that the alcohol Parvi had imbibed or the injuries he sustained, or both, had had the effect of wiping out his recollection of being in the police car against his will, that is a far cry from saying that he was not conscious of his confinement at the time when it was actually taking place. And, even if plaintiff's sentient state at the time of his imprisonment was something less than total sobriety, that does not mean that he had no conscious sense of what was then happening to him. To the contrary, there is much in the record to support a finding that the plaintiff indeed was aware of his arrest at the time it took place. By way of illustration, the officers described Parvi's responsiveness to their command that he get into the car, his colloquy while being driven to Coleman Hill and his request to be let off elsewhere. At the very least, then, it was for the jury, in the first instance, to weigh credibility, evaluate inconsistencies and determine whether the burden of proof had been met.

19

Passing on now to the fourth and final element, that of privilege or justification, preliminarily, and dispositively for the purpose of this appeal, it is to be noted that, since the alleged imprisonment here was without a warrant and therefore an extrajudicial act, the burden not only of proving, but of pleading legal justification was on the city, whose failure to have done so precluded it from introducing such evidence under its general denial (Broughton v. State of New York, 37 N.Y.2d 451, 456, 373 N.Y.S.2d 87, 93, 335 N.E.2d 310, 312, supra; Woodson v. New York City Housing Auth., 10 N.Y.2d 30, 217 N.Y.S.2d 31, 176 N.E.2d 57).

20

Since the city nevertheless contends that as a matter of law a privilege to arrest was established in this case and since, as already indicated, in our view of the case there will have to be a new trial, raising the possibility of an amendment of the pleadings, we deem it appropriate to comment. The city's argument runs that a police officer is not required to arrest for drunkenness but may exercise discretion to take an intoxicated person home or to some other safe place as the circumstances dictate and that that was done here.

21

In Sindle v. New York City Tr. Auth., 33 N.Y.2d 293, 352 N.Y.S.2d 183, 307 N.E.2d 245, we reflected on the scope of the privileges which constitute justification. We there said (p. 297), 352 N.Y.S.2d p. 186, 307 N.E.2d p. 248 "(G)enerally, restraint or detention, reasonable under the circumstances and in time and manner, imposed for the purpose of preventing another from inflicting personal injuries or interfering with or damaging real or personal property in one's lawful possession or custody is not unlawful". Consequently, it may be that taking a person who is in a state of intoxication to a position of greater safety would constitute justification. But it is clearly not privileged to arrest such a person for the sole purpose of running him out of town, or, as further proof at the trial here established, once having arrested such a person, to follow a practice of running him out of town to avoid guardhouse chores for the police whenever there were no other prisoners in the local jail. Such acts cannot be sanctioned with the mantle of the privilege of justification. A person who has had too much to drink is not a chattel to be transported [394 N.Y.S.2d 165] from one locus to another at the whim or convenience of police officers.

22

The Restatement of Torts 2d ( § 10, Comment d) states it well: "Where the privilege is based upon the value attached to the interest to be protected or advanced by its exercise, the privilege protects the actor from liability only if the acts are done for the purpose of protecting or advancing the interest in question. Such privileges are often called conditional, because the act is privileged only on condition that it is done for the purpose of protecting or advancing the particular interest. They are sometimes called 'defeasible', to indicate the fact that the privilege is destroyed if the act is done for any purpose other than the protection or advancement of the interest in question." It follows that, if the conduct of the officers indeed is found to have been motivated by the desire to run the plaintiff out of town, the action for false imprisonment would not have been rebutted by the defense of legal justification. For, under plaintiff's theory, the false imprisonment count does not rest on the reasonableness of the police officers' action, but on whether the unwilling confinement of the plaintiff was the result of an arrest for a nonjustified purpose.

23

The cause of action for negligence

24

The Appellate Division upheld the dismissal of the negligence cause on the ground that it was not reasonably foreseeable that a person who is under the influence of alcohol will walk approximately 350 feet in the dead of night and climb over a guardrail onto the New York Thruway. Before treating with that issue, we prefer to give our attention to the more fundamental question of the basic duty owed by the city to the plaintiff in this situation, a question somewhat obscured by the jargon of negligence terminology (Green, The Duty Problem in Negligence Cases, 28 Col.L.Rev. 1014, 29 Col.L.Rev. 255).

25

In that connection, we do not believe it aids our analysis of the negligence count to speculate on the duty of a police officer to arrest or not to arrest intoxicated persons. Instead, we confront directly the duty of police officers to persons under the influence of alcohol who are already in their custody, as was the case here once Parvi was compelled to enter the police car. The case law is clear that even when no original duty is owed to the plaintiff to undertake affirmative action, once it is voluntarily undertaken, it must be performed with due care (Marks v. Nambil Realty Co., 245 N.Y. 256, 258, 157 N.E. 129, 130; Glanzer v. Shepard, 233 N.Y. 236, 239, 135 N.E. 275, 276; Zelenko v. Gimbel Bros., 158 Misc. 904, 287 N.Y.S. 134, affd., 247 App.Div. 867, 287 N.Y.S. 136). As Restatement of Torts 2d ( § 324) puts it, "One who, being under no duty to do so, takes charge of another who is helpless adequately to aid or protect himself is subject to liability to the other for any bodily harm caused to him by (a) the failure of the actor to exercise reasonable care to secure the safety of the other while within the actor's charge or (b) the actor's discontinuing his aid or protection, if by so doing, he leaves the other in a worse position than when the actor took charge of him".

26

Comment g to that section makes it evident that this duty cannot be fulfilled by placing the helpless person in a position of peril equal to that from which he was rescued. So it tells us that "if the actor has succeeded in removing the other from a position of danger to one of safety, he cannot change his position for the worse by unreasonably putting him back into the same peril, or into a new one."

27

We return now to the question of whether it was reasonably foreseeable that Parvi, who appeared sufficiently intoxicated for the police to take action, when set down in the dead of night in a lonely rural setting within 350 feet of a superhighway, whose traffic noises were sure to make its presence known, might wander onto the road. To state the question is to answer it. To be sure, much has to depend on what the [394 N.Y.S.2d 166] jury finds to have been the state of his sobriety and the nature of the surrounding physical and other circumstances. But traditionally these are the kind of matters suitable for jury determination rather than for the direction of a verdict (Prosser, Torts (4th ed), § 45, p. 290; cf. Sheehan v. City of New York, 40 N.Y.2d 496, 502, 387 N.Y.S.2d 92, 95, 354 N.E.2d 832, 834).

28

Finally, a word of clarification may be in order as to the legal role of plaintiff's voluntary intoxication. To accept the defendant's argument, that the intoxication was itself the proximate cause of Parvi's injury as a matter of law, would be to negate the very duty imposed on the police officers when they took Parvi and Dugan into custody. It would be to march up the hill only to march down again. The clear duty imposed on the officers interdicts such a result if, as the jury may find, their conduct was unreasonable (Fagan v. Atlantic Coast Line R. R. Co., 220 N.Y. 301, 307, 115 N.E. 704, 707; Black v. New York, New Haven & Hartford R. R. Co., 193 Mass. 448, 79 N.E. 797; see Restatement, Torts 2d, § 324, Illustration 3). For it is the very fact of plaintiff's drunkenness which precipitated the duty once the officers made the decision to act.

29

Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division should be reversed, both causes of action reinstated and a new trial ordered, with leave to the defendant, if so advised, to move at Trial Term for leave to amend its answer to affirmatively plead a defense of justification to the cause of action for false imprisonment.

30

BREITEL, Chief Judge (dissenting).

31

I dissent. On no view of the facts should plaintiff, brought to causing his own serious injury by his voluntary intoxication, be allowed to recover from the City of Kingston for damages suffered when he wandered onto the New York State Thruway and was struck by an automobile. His attack is the familiar one on the good Samaritan, in the persons of two police officers, for not having, in retrospect, done enough.

32

The order of the Appellate Division should be affirmed, and the action stand dismissed.

33

On the night in question, the Kingston city police, responding to a complaint, found plaintiff Parvi and his companions in the midst of an uproarious argument behind a commercial establishment located on Broadway, in Kingston. Close by were railroad tracks, still in use by locomotives and freight trains. Plaintiff and his companion Dugan, both intoxicated, were asked if they had any place to go, and they said not. They were then taken to the police car, and informed that they would not be placed in jail on this holiday weekend, but, in accordance with their wishes, would instead be transported to a point out of the area where they could "sleep it off" without getting into further trouble. Dugan and Parvi repeatedly expressed their appreciation and gratitude at the option given them.

34

As the drive out of town proceeded, one of the men suggested a place where they might be left. The police officers, however, solicitous of the safety of their charges, declined this request, noting that the area suggested provided no shelter and, significantly, that the Thruway was "right there". As an alternative, the officers, with the consent of plaintiff and Dugan, dropped the men off at "Coleman Hill", the site of a former golf course, a spot often used by campers and equipped with several "lean-to" shelters. From the relative safety of this sheltered area, the two men, some time later, managed to wander onto the Thruway, over 350 feet away, where Dugan was killed and Parvi injured by passing automobiles.

35

On these facts, Parvi contends both that he was falsely imprisoned and that the city, through its police officers, was negligent. Neither claim withstands analysis, and both should fall.

36

In Broughton v. State of New York, 37 N.Y.2d 451, 456, 373 N.Y.S.2d 87, 92, 335 [394 N.Y.S.2d 167] N.E.2d 310, 313, cert. den., 423 U.S. 929, 96 S.Ct. 277, 46 L.Ed.2d 257, this court enumerated the elements necessary to sustain a false imprisonment claim: (1) intention to confine, (2) consciousness of confinement, (3) lack of consent to confinement, and (4) lack of privilege. But before those factors may even be reached, there must be evidence of a confinement. In this case, there was none, but, instead, merely an exclusion from one particular area and activity (see Restatemen Torts 2d, § 36, esp Comment b ; Prosser, Torts (4th ed), p. 42).

37

So long as Parvi did not remain out in public, intoxicated, creating a public nuisance, and endangering his own life, the officers had no wish to interfere with Parvi's freedom of movement. Since Parvi could suggest no suitable place where the officers might take him, the officers chose another site. Apparently, Parvi and Dugan were pleased with the choice. And it should not matter that Parvi testified, although he could recall nothing else, that he was ordered into a police car "against (his) will". (On cross-examination, he said he recalled nothing that day.) Parvi's "will" was to stay where he was, intoxicated, in public. In order to deprive him of that one choice, which the officers could do without subjecting themselves to liability for false imprisonment, the officers had to transport Parvi some place else. He was given a choice as to destination. He declined it, except for his later suggestion of an unsafe place, and the officers made the choice for him. There was no confinement, and hence no false imprisonment.

38

Moreover, plaintiff has failed even to make out a prima facie case that he was conscious of his purported confinement, and that he failed to consent to it. His memory of the entire incident had disappeared; at trial, Parvi admitted that he no longer had any independent recollection of what happened on the day of his accident, and that as to the circumstances surrounding his entrance into the police car, he only knew what had been suggested to him by subsequent conversations. In light of this testimony, Parvi's conclusory statement that he was ordered into the car against his will is insufficient, as a matter of law, to establish a prima facie case.

39

Plaintiff's negligence claim is equally without merit. The police officers had no duty to leave Parvi absolutely free from danger in any form. Instead, they owed plaintiff only a duty to exercise ordinary care (Dunham v. Village of Canisteo, 303 N.Y. 498, 502, 104 N.E.2d 872, 874). That duty was discharged by leaving plaintiff at a camping ground equipped with "lean-to" shelters and removed from the holiday bustle of the city, where Parvi had been drinking for the past two or three days. Since it was not foreseeable that Parvi, rather than "sleeping off" his intoxication, would wander away, climb over a guardrail, and be struck by an automobile on the New York State Thruway, there was no breach of duty, no negligence, and hence, no liability (see Cartee v. Saks Fifth Ave., 277 App.Div. 606, 60 101 N.Y.S.2d 761, 764-765, affd., 303 N.Y. 832, 104 N.E.2d 375). If, perchance, he was in search of more drinks, there was no chance of giving him absolute safety except by locking him up. It should not be the rule, common to an era long well past, that every drunkard must be locked up on being observed as intoxicated in public.

40

In removing Parvi and Dugan from the center of town, the police officers were performing a recognized public function. In his intoxicated state, Parvi, with his companions, was creating a public nuisance. It had been a long-standing practice in Kingston to transport publicly intoxicated people out of the center of town. The practice was followed in this case, and it is not, in a smaller city (population 25,544), an inherently unreasonable way of dealing with public intoxication. It avoids the humiliation and degradation to the offender, of maintaining him in jail. It is a commonplace that it is no longer acceptable, albeit it still continues, to treat the intoxicated and alcoholic in this fashion, as one does criminals.

41

[394 N.Y.S.2d 168] Moreover, transplanting plaintiff from the center of town to an isolated area on the outskirts was protective of plaintiff himself. While a man in an intoxicated state can always be a hazard to himself, he is much more so when located in the center of town, in the midst of city streets, railroad tracks, molesters, muggers, street vehicles, and without shelter, than he would be in an isolated area. But one may not deprive him of reasonable access, after he recovers his sobriety, to food and other necessities. Had the police placed the two men out of reasonable access to any road, the isolation would have been inhumane. And any road would under some circumstances be dangerous. At least, the Thruway was bordered by a guardrail, and the record does not indicate the distance to the other accessible roads, including the road by which they reached Coleman Hill.

42

Restatement, Torts 2d, defines an act as negligent when it involves a risk of harm "of such magnitude as to outweigh what the law regards as the utility of the act or of the particular manner in which it is done" ( § 291). Here, the risk was slight; the police officers obviously considered safety in choosing the camping site to deposit the two men, and reasonably regarded the site as safe. More significant, by removing Parvi from town, they removed him from a place of greater danger, and halted a public nuisance as well. The police conduct, therefore, was not unreasonable under the Restatement test. (See, also, Restatement, Torts 2d, §§ 292, 293.) The same analysis applies under section 324 of Restatement, Torts 2d, dealing with the duty of one who takes charge of helpless persons, since the officers materially improved plaintiff's position by removing him from town.

43

Since, therefore, there was no breach of duty to plaintiff, as a matter of law, the negligence count, too, was properly dismissed.

44

There is hubris in the bringing of an action of this kind. Parvi is one of a pair of drinkers, derelicts perhaps, engaged in making a public nuisance of themselves in the center of a small Hudson River Valley city on a holiday weekend. The police of that city, a tiny force, are not sisters of charity or baby-sitters.

45

Basically, the legal issues in this case are not difficult. And the justice issues are even less so. A drunken man, a pitiable character, is found with his companions in the middle of town. Sympathetic police officers offer to take the men any where they choose, but the poor fellows have no place to go. So, rather than locking them up for a holiday weekend, the officers deposit the men in a suburban setting, where some shelter is available. The officers are thanked for their kindness. But, in the end, the efforts of the officers are to no avail, as the drunken men wander away from safety and into danger. A tragedy, certainly. A miscalculation, perhaps. But even with the aid of hindsight, the facts in this case are not the stuff on which tort liability may be premised.

46

Accordingly, I dissent, and vote to affirm the order of the Appellate Division.

47

GABRIELLI, JONES, WACHTLER and COOKE, JJ., concur with FUCHSBERG, J.

48

BREITEL, C. J., dissents and votes to affirm in a separate opinion in which JASEN, J., concurs.

49

Order reversed, with costs to abide the event, both causes of action reinstated and a new trial granted, with leave to respondent to move at Trial Term to amend its answer.