COLLINS v. STRAIGHT, INC. No. 83-1767.
748 F.2d 916 (1984)
Fred COLLINS, Appellee, v. STRAIGHT, INC., A Florida Corp., licensed to do business in the state of Virginia, Appellant.
United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.
Rehearing and Rehearing Denied February 4, 1985.
Ronald L. Goldfarb, Washington, D.C. (Goldfarb, Singer & Austern, Washington, D.C.; John J. Brandt, Slenker, Brandt, Jennings & Johnston, Arlington, Va., on brief), for appellant.
Philip J. Hirschkop, Alexandria, Va. (David J. Fudala, Hirschkop & Grad, P.C., Alexandria, Va., on brief), for appellee.
Before WINTER, Chief Judge, CHAPMAN, Circuit Judge and MILLER, District Judge.
Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied February 4, 1985.
CHAPMAN, Circuit Judge:
In this diversity of citizenship case, Straight, Inc. appeals a jury verdict of $40,000 in compensatory and $180,000 in punitive damages awarded to plaintiff Fred Collins on a false imprisonment cause of action. Finding that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude that the plaintiff had been falsely imprisoned, that the jury was properly instructed concerning the applicable law and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its ruling on certain questions of trial procedure, we affirm.
Collins entered the Straight drug treatment facility in June 1982 when he was nineteen years of age. He originally came to the Straight facility in Florida to visit his brother George who was enrolled there. Straight policy required siblings of participants to have a "sibling interview" before visiting a person enrolled in the program. During the course of this interview, Straight staff members concluded that Fred Collins should also enter the program. (Whether Collins was drug dependent and needed treatment was disputed at trial. Although this question of fact was a significant
At trial plaintiff described the measures used by Straight staff members to induce him to enter the program. Collins testified that he was subjected to approximately six and one-half hours of intimidation by Straight staff members and former participants who blocked the door to prevent his escape from a small, windowless room; that his requests to leave and to be allowed to see his parents were refused; that staff members told him that he would not be able to see his brother or his parents until he agreed to enter the program; and that if he did enroll he would be able to leave after fourteen days. He ultimately signed a "voluntary treatment agreement." Plaintiff, unlike some of the other participants in the Straight program, was not admitted under a court order; nor was a court order obtained during the period he was at Straight.
After signing into the program, Collins was strip-searched and during the first seventy days he was either closely watched or restrained by another Straight participant. Evenings were spent in private homes that contained security devices to prevent escape. Collins testified that when he requested to be allowed to leave Straight after ten days, he was ridiculed and poked in the chest. When he mentioned the fourteen day time period to other participants they expressed their beliefs that such a rule was a sham and that Straight did not intend to release anyone after fourteen days. Plaintiff testified that persons who did try to leave were subjected to verbal and physical abuse and had their privileges curtailed. In October 1982 Collins was transferred to Virginia where he stayed at his parents' home for three nights. He testified that new locks and alarms had been installed in the house. According to his testimony he escaped from the house by throwing a table through the kitchen window, climbing through the window and leaving the premises in the car of a friend who had arranged to pick him up. Plaintiff had been in the Straight program for one hundred thirty-four days.
In his amended complaint, Collins contended that he was forced into Straight's drug treatment program and suffered false imprisonment, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court bifurcated the trial into separate stages for jury consideration of issues of liability and damages. Returning a verdict for the plaintiff on the false imprisonment claim, the jury found for the defendant on the remaining two issues.
Straight's primary claim is that the trial judge erred in failing to instruct the jury that an essential element in a false imprisonment case is proof that the restraint was "unreasonable and unwarranted under the circumstances" citing Winn & Lovett Grocery Co. v. Archer, 126 Fla. 308, 171 So. 214 (1936); Kanner v. First National Bank of South Miami,
The charge given by the court on false imprisonment was as follows:
Several times during the charge the court instructs that the restraint on liberty must be without "sufficient cause" "without sufficient cause or legal excuse," and "without justifiable or legal excuse." These constant references to "legal excuse," appear to put a higher burden of proof on the plaintiff than would a simple charge that the restraint was "unreasonable or unwarranted under the circumstances."
The cases relied upon by Straight do indicate that a jury must find the restraint to be "unreasonable and unwarranted under the circumstances," but these cases do not involve consent of the plaintiff, as was claimed in the present case, and the cases involve the usual stopping and detaining of customers or employees. Other Florida decisions do not indicate a requirement of the "unreasonable or unwarranted under the circumstances" test. See Jackson v. Biscayne Medical Center, Inc.,
Reasonableness seems to be the test used when judging a stop or a detention when one is suspected of shoplifting or some other crime, and not when he has allegedly consented to the initial restraint.
Under this rule it would appear that Straight's "cooling off period" of ten to fourteen days, during which a person is prevented from leaving after requesting to leave, would be unreasonable. Therefore, reasonableness of the "cooling off period" would not be a jury question.
We find that the judge's charge adequately set forth the law of false imprisonment to be applied in the present case.
Defendant contends that the district court "erred in defining the law of consent," however, its argument is not with the language of the definition but with the sufficiency of the evidence on the voluntariness of any consent. This was a factual issue and at trial the parties presented conflicting testimony on the point. The jury was called upon to "weigh contradictory evidence and inferences, pass on the credibility of witnesses and draw the ultimate conclusion as to the facts." Jarrell v. Ford Motor Co.,
Straight argues that the district court erred in admitting evidence of "other bad acts" by Straight that involved people other than Collins. Defendant claims that it was severely prejudiced by this evidence because the testimony diverted the jury's attention from the plaintiff's case and resulted in "mini-trials" of Straight's treatment of other enrollees. We find the district court did not abuse its discretion, but properly restricted the evidence from other program participants concerning the practices of the Straight program. During the liability phase of trial the district court ruled that Collins would be allowed to testify concerning incidents that occurred in his presence. Collins related his observations that participants were not allowed to leave the program and that persons who escaped were brought back physically. He further testified that these incidents affected his decision not to try to leave the program. This testimony was proper on the issue of whether he consented to remain at Straight. Following Collins' testimony, two other participants who were at Straight during the time that plaintiff was there were allowed to corroborate his account. The court refused, however, to allow testimony of Straight participants who were not there at the same time as Collins.
During the damages phase of trial the court allowed in testimony of persons who were similarly situated to Collins. These witnesses were over the age of eighteen and alleged that they too had been held in the program against their will. The court reasoned that it was relevant for the jury
Defendant claims error for failure to instruct that "actual malice" must be shown to support an award of punitive damages. Actual malice, however, need not be proven under Florida law. See Winn & Lovett Grocery Co. v. Archer, supra at 221 (punitive damages appropriate in cases of "fraud, actual malice, or deliberate violence or oppression or when the defendant acts willfully, or with such gross negligence as to indicate a wanton disregard of the rights of others.") See also 24 Fla.Jur.2d False Imprisonment § 11 (1981) ("For detention to be considered `malicious,' the defendant need not act with anger, malevolence, or vindictiveness toward the plaintiff; it is sufficient if the act causing the wrongful restraint is without reasonable cause. However, an award of punitive damages generally is improper in an action for false imprisonment in the absence of a showing of moral turpitude or wanton and outrageous disregard of the plaintiff's rights.") The court's charge stated in part:
We find this to be a proper instruction under Florida law.
Defendant takes four final exceptions. That the district court erred in not granting a remittitur to reduce the punitive damages verdict, in refusing to grant a motion for change of venue from Virginia to Florida, in permitting the use of certain de bene esse depositions and in not granting a mistrial on grounds of attorney misconduct. We find that there was no abuse of discretion by the district court on these issues. Although we agree with the trial court's characterization of the verdict as high, and we are aware that difficult questions arise in treating drug abuse among young people, we must conclude that the verdict is not so excessive that it seems to have been motivated by sympathy and prejudice. Nor is it so high that it cannot be justified by the record. Virginian Railway Co. v. Armentrout,
With regard to the question of change of venue, a district court is required to weigh the factors involved and "[u]nless the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff's choice of forum should rarely be disturbed." Gulf Oil v. Gilbert,
A review of the record indicates that the remaining two exceptions, which involve primarily issues of trial tactics, were carefully considered by the district court and the rulings on these questions were within the court's discretion.
Accordingly, the decision of the district court is
JAMES R. MILLER, Jr., District Judge, dissenting:
I respectfully dissent from Part II of the court's opinion, because I believe that Florida law is unclear on the issues herein involved and that, under the circumstances of this case, certification of those questions of state law controlling herein should be made to the Supreme Court of Florida.
The majority recognize that, in this diversity case, the district judge refused to give the instruction requested by Straight that an essential element of proof in a false imprisonment case, under Florida law, is that the restraint was "unreasonable and unwarranted under the circumstances," and that the reason given by the judge for his refusal was "that he did not think reasonableness was a criteria under the circumstances of the present case." (P. 918). Citing Jackson v. Biscayne Medical Center, Inc.,
Neither Jackson, supra, nor Johnson, supra, are decisions of the Supreme Court of Florida, the highest court of the State.
In addition, Jackson, supra, did not involve the question of the evidence necessary to establish the tort of false imprisonment, but merely held that the allegations of the complaint were sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Jackson v. Biscayne Medical Center, Inc.,
In Johnson, a case involving an arrest by police officers for possession of lottery tickets, and not one, as here, involving an alleged consent to the initial restraint, the court, in reversing a summary judgment for the police, merely stated that since "plaintiff was required to show that the defendants, in procuring her arrest, exercised unlawful restraint and detained her against her will," Johnson v. City of Pompano Beach,
In my view, the state of Florida law on the question here involved is uncertain. No opinions of the Florida Supreme Court directly on point have been cited or found. Nevertheless, it could be argued that Florida law requires a finding of "unreasonableness under the circumstances" in the type of case here under consideration for the reasons set forth below.
Although it appears that the unreasonableness requirement was imposed first in retail merchant cases where, under the common law, "there is clearly an implied authority to do all things that may be proper and necessary for the protection of property," S.H. Kress & Co. v. Powell, 132 Fla. 471, 180 So. 757 at 761 (1938), and in cases in which the arresting or imprisoning person was acting under some official legal authority, see, e.g., City of Miami v. Albro,
In two cases in which the defendants were neither merchants nor policemen, the Supreme Court of Florida applied a reasonableness of restraint requirement. In Harris v. Lewis State Bank,
The court in Harris did not discuss whether the bank was a "merchant," but in a previous Florida false imprisonment case, the court pointed out that a "merchant is a person who deals in goods ... other than money." Washington County Kennel Club, Inc. v. Edge,
An argument can be made that in Harris the court was not applying a limited common law privilege available only to merchants and police, but, on the contrary, was stating that in any false imprisonment case, the plaintiff must show that the restraint was unreasonable and unwarranted under the circumstances.
Similarly, in Kanner v. First National Bank,
The majority also rejected the contention of Straight, in support of its requested jury instruction, "that the jury should have passed upon whether its withdrawal procedures, including the `cooling off period' of 10 to 14 days were reasonable in programs handling persons" being treated for the use of illegal drugs. In doing so, the majority
In a similar case, Rice v. Mercy Hospital,
The foregoing demonstrates, it is respectfully submitted, that there is substantial question as to what Florida law is on the decisive issues concerning this appeal. In this diversity case, in which Florida law is controlling, to paraphrase the majority opinion of Justice Douglas in Lehman Bros. v. Schein,
Although the Supreme Court has frequently deferred to a construction of state law made by a district court sitting in that state and affirmed by a court of appeals whose jurisdiction includes the state whose law is construed, see, e.g., Bishop v. Wood,
It is a commonplace that illegal drug usage has severely disrupted, and in some cases destroyed, the lives of many youths in our present-day society. In response to such conditions, programs of varying degrees of effectiveness have been established, some of an experimental nature, to attempt to treat young persons who have become physiologically or psychologically addicted to the use of these drugs. Straight, Inc., the appellant herein, apparently is one such program which has been developed. The legal atmosphere within which those programs are allowed to perform their function in a particular state is a matter of paramount state importance and should be decided in the first instance by state courts. Id.
Certification of the state law questions involved herein is consistent with the criteria established by this court for such certification in Boyter v. C.I.R. Service,
Since Florida has a certification rule, permitting discretionary Florida Supreme Court review of certified questions from the federal courts, Florida Appellate Rule 9.150; Florida Constitution, Art. V, § 3(b)(6), I respectfully submit that the questions of Florida state law which I have referred to herein should be certified to that court.
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