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Torts
Wayne State University Law School
Ackerman, Bob

I. Intentional Torts
 
A. The prima facie case
 
·         Prima Facie Case of an Intentional Tort – P must prove
(1) Act by D;
(2) Intent; and
(3) Causation.
 
1.) Act By D
The “act” requirement for an intentional tort refers to a volitional movement on D’s part.
 
2.) Intent
The requisite intent may be either specific or general.
§ Specific– An actor “intends” the consequences of his conduct if his goal in acting is to bring about the consequences.
§ General– An actor “intends” the consequences of his conduct if he knows with substantialcertainty that the consequences will result. 
·         Garratt v. Dailey [D, a five year old, pulls a chair from under P as she is sitting down. Even if D did not desire that she hit the ground, if D knew with substantial certainty that she was trying to sit and would hit the ground, D will have the intent necessary for battery.] The actor need not intend the injury. The intent of the actor that is relevant for purposes of intentional torts is the intent to bring about the consequences that are the bassi of the tort. Thus, a person may be liable even for an unintended injury if he intended to bring about such “basis of the tort” consequences.
·         Transferred Intent:
The transferred intent doctrine applies where D intends to commit a tort against one person, but instead:
(1) commits a different tort against that person,
(2) commits the same tort as intended but against a different person, or
(3) commits a different tort against a different person.
In such cases, the intent to commit a tort against one person is transferred to the other tort or to the injured person for purposes of establishing a prima facie case.
Transferred intent may only be invoked where the tort intended and the tort that results are both within the following list:
• Assault
• Battery
• False Imprisonment
• Trespass to Land
• Trespass to Chattels
·         Minors and Incompetent Persons Can Have Intent
Under the majority view, both minors and incompetent persons can be liable for their intentional torts because they are held to possess the requisite intent.
 
3.) Causation
The result giving rise to liability (the injury sustained) must have been legally caused by D’s act or something set in motion by D. The causation requirement will be satisfied where the conduct of D is a substantial factorin bringing about the injury.
 
1.) Battery
P must prove:
(1) An act by D which brings about harmful or offensive contact to P’s person;
(2) Intent on the part of D to bring about harmful or offensive contact to P’s person; and
(3) Causation.
 
Harmful or Offensive Contact
Whether any given contact is to be construed as harmful of offensive is judged by whether it would be considered harmful or offensive by a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities. Contact is deemed “offensive” if P has not expressly or impliedly consented to it.
 
Apprehension of the harmful or offensive contact is not necessary. For instance, P may recover for battery even though he is not conscious of the harmful or offensive contact when it occurs (e.g., unauthorized surgery performed on unconscious patient can still be harmful or offensive contact).
 
P’s Person
For purposes of battery, anything connected to P’s body is viewed as part of P’s person.
Example: D grabbed P’s purse, which was hanging from P’s shoulder. D may be liable for battery. (Other examples include P’s cane, hat, an article of clothing, or a plate in P’s hand in a buffet dinner line.)
 
i)        Snyder v. Turk= doctor pulls the nurse by her neck during surgery
(1)   Black Letter Law = liability for battery when (a) an actor intends to cause a harmful or offensive contact or (b) when harmful or offensive contact results
ii)      Cohen v. Smith= a couple with religious views, no one sees the wife undressed
(1)   Battery= intent to cause a harmful or offensive contact
(2)   A harmful or offensive contact results with a person either directly or indirectly
Black Letter Law= A person is liable for contact which do actual physical harm and trivial harm that may just be insulting and offensive
 
·         A person who commits an intentional tort, with the least conscious wrong doing, is responsible for all the damages caused (not just the one that was intended)
iii)    Polmatier v. Russ ( beating and killing of the father-in-law)
(1)   Black Letter Law= it is not necessary for a person’s reasons or motives to form intent, to be rational in order for him to have intent to invade the interests of others
iv)    White v. Muniz (mental patient hits the nurse)
(1)   Black Letter Law = Dual Intent
(a)    Contact was harmful and offensive
(b)   The result is harmful, even though it may not been intended to be so
Insane people can be convicted of battery, but there needs to be proof that the person intended harmful or offensive consequences
 
Causation
D is liable not only for “direct” contract, but also for “indirect” contact (i.e., it will be sufficient if D sets in motion a force that brings about harmful or offensive contact).
Example: D, intending to set a trap, dug a hole in the road upon which P was going to walk. P fell into the hole. Causation for the harmful or offensive contract exists.
 
Transferred Intent
Example: D swings at Y (intending to cause harmful or offensive contact), but hits P. D’s intent to cause injury to Y transfers to P, and D is liable to P for the battery.
 
2.) Assault
1. Prima Facie Case. An assault is an act, other than the mere speaking of words, that directly is a legal cause of placing the plaintiff in fear or apprehension of immediate harmful or offensive contact without consent or privilege. The elements of assault that make up a plaintiff’s prima facie case are:
(i) Act by the defendant;
(ii) Intent of the defendant;
(iii) Fear or apprehension of the plaintiff; and
(iv) Causal relationship.
For liability to attach, there must be an absence of consent and privilege
2. Requirement that Fear of Contact Must Be Imminent
·         Fear of harm must be imminent to be actionable as assault. Threats for the future are actionable, if at all, not as assaults but as intentional inflictions of mental distress.
·         Comment. Words alone usually are insufficient to create an assault. However, words may give a hostile character to an otherwise harmless act. For example, verbal threats by the defendant immediately followed by the defendant reaching into his pocket may create apprehension in the plaintiff (e.g., that the defendant is reaching for a gun or knife) that might not be reasonable absent the verbal threats.
Reasonable Apprehension
The apprehension of harmful or offensive contact must be a reasonable one. Courts generally will not protect P against exaggerated fears of contact – unless D knows of the unreasonable fear and uses it to put P in apprehension. In determining whether the apprehension is reasonable, the courts will usually apply a reasonable person test.
 
Apprehension is not the same thing as fear. Apprehension is used in the sense of expectation. Thus, one may reasonably apprehend an immediate contact, even though he believes he can defend himself or otherwise avoid the contract. For there to apprehension (i.e., expectation), P must be aware of D’s act. This is different from battery, in which P need not be aware of the contact.
 
3.) False imprisonment
1. Prima Facie Case. False imprisonment is the total obstruction and detention of the plaintiff, of which she is aware, within boundaries, for any length of time, with intent by the defendant to obstruct or detain the plaintiff or another, and without privilege or consent.
2. Obstruction or Detention. The obstruction or detention element may be satisfied even if the person is not totally imprisoned.
a. No reasonable exit. False imprisonment occurs if the pl

section provides that a conversion is an intentional exercise of dominion or control over a chattel that so seriously interferes with the right of another to control it that the one interfering with it is justly liable to the other for the full value of the chattel. The following factors are to be considered in determining whether the interference is serious enough to require full compensation:
a) Extent of dominion;
b) Duration of the interference;
c) Harm done to the chattel;
d) Inconvenience and expense to the one entitled to possession; and
e) Good faith of the person exercising control.
 
 
c.) Trespass to chattel
·         Trespass to chattels. Trespass to chattels results from intentional interference with possession or physical condition of a chattel in the possession of another, without consent of the person entitled thereto and without privilege, which interference causes actual damage. The gist of the tort is physical interference with the exclusive right of another to use and possess a chattel.
·         Interfering Act by D
o   Any act that interferes with the right of possession will suffice. Generally, there are two forms of interference on the part of Ds:
§ Intermeddling– Conduct by D that in some way serves to directly damage P’s chattels (e.g., denting P’s car, striking P’s dog).
§ Dispossession– Conduct on D’s part serving to dispossess P of his lawful right of possession (e.g., stealing P’s car)
Intent
Mistake as to the lawfulness of D’s actions (e.g., a mistaken belief that D owns the chattel) is not a defenseto an action for trespass to chattels. Again, as with trespass to land, the intent to trespass is not required – intent to do the act constituting interference with the chattel is sufficient.
 
Actual Damages Required
Unlike battery, assault, and trespass to land, actual damage to the chattel is required. As a general rule, nominal damages will not be awarded for trespass to chattels (i.e., in the absence of any actual damages, an action will not lie.) If, however, the trespass amounts to a dispossession, the loss of possession is itself deemed an actual harm.
 
Distinguishing Trespass to Chattels and Conversion
Conversion grants relief for interferences with a chattel so serious in nature, or so serious in consequences, as to warrant requiring D to pay the chattel’s full value in damages. For those interferences not so serious in nature or consequences, trespass to chattels is the appropriate action.
 
6.) Civil rights violations
1. Background. Many actions based on dignitary harms may overlap between basic tort claims and claims of civil rights violations. Most modern civil rights actions are based upon statutes passed immediately following the Civil War. These statutes remained unused until fairly recently.
2. Basic Elements. The modern claim for violation of constitutional rights is ordinarily based on 42 U.S.C. section 1983. This statute requires the plaintiff to show that:
a. Any person, b. Under the color of state law, c. Deprived the plaintiff of rights guaranteed under the Constitution.
3. Allows for the prevailing plaintiff to recover attorney fees.