This case presents the question whether an individual who is confined in a county jail beyond his proper jail term may maintain an action for false imprisonment against the county or whether such a suit is barred by the governmental immunity provisions of the California Tort Claims Act. The superior court concluded that the governmental immunity sections precluded the action, but, as will appear, we have determined that that decision was in error; accordingly we conclude that the judgment must be reversed.
Plaintiff Jack Sullivan instituted the present action against defendant County of Los Angeles as a result of his alleged confinement in Los Angeles County jail for several days beyond the termination of his sentence. The confinement grew out of the following circumstances.
On June 6, 1967, plaintiff was arraigned in municipal court on a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in violation of Penal Code section 272; he entered a not guilty plea to the charge. The following day plaintiff pled guilty to a separate drunk driving charge (Veh. Code, § 23102, subd. (a)) and was sentenced to pay a fine of $250 plus penalty assessment or serve 50 days in city jail. Plaintiff did not pay the fine and began serving the 50-day drunk driving sentence on June 7, 1967.
Plaintiff then brought this action for false imprisonment against the county predicated upon the sheriff's failure to release him. Plaintiff alleged in his amended complaint that he was imprisoned in the county jail by county sheriffs and employees who acted "with knowledge ... that there were no charges of any kind pending against [him] and that [he] was entitled to his [release] and freedom" or who "in the exercise of reasonable care ... should have known that there were no charges of any kind pending against [him] ... and that [he] was entitled to his release and freedom ..."
For the reasons which follow we conclude that plaintiff has stated a cause of action against the County of Los Angeles. If, at a subsequent trial, plaintiff can prove the alleged facts, the county will be both directly and derivatively liable for injury caused to plaintiff by his false imprisonment.
1. The county's failure to release plaintiff after dismissal of all charges against him, as mandated by Penal Code section 1384, renders it directly liable under Government Code section 815.6.
Government Code section 815.6 provides: "Where a public entity is under a mandatory duty imposed by an enactment that is designed to protect against the risk of a particular kind of injury, the public entity is liable for an injury of that kind proximately caused by its failure to discharge the duty unless the public entity establishes that it exercised reasonable diligence to discharge the duty."
Two Court of Appeal cases have applied section 815.6
Similarly in Bradford v. State of California (1973) 36 Cal.App.3d 16 [111 Cal.Rptr. 852], employees of the State of California failed to record the fact that charges had been dismissed against the plaintiff; as a result he was rearrested. The Court of Appeal held that Penal Code sections 11116 and 11116.6 imposing a mandatory duty upon the state to record such dismissals, were intended to avoid the danger of possible future illegal arrest and incarceration. The state could not claim immunity from liability for damages arising out of its failure to perform a mandatory duty imposed by statute.
In the case before us plaintiff alleges that county employees retained him in jail after all charges against him had been dismissed despite the mandatory duty of Penal Code section 1384. Plaintiff alleges that he suffered precisely the kind of injury that section 1384 purports to prevent: continued incarceration. Therefore, assuming the truth of the allegations of imprisonment, Government Code section 815.6 imposes direct liability upon the county for plaintiff's damages unless the county can demonstrate that "it exercised reasonable diligence to discharge the duty."
The county contends, however, that, assuming the applicability of section 815.6, section 844.6, subdivision (a)(2) bars the present action. That section provides: "Notwithstanding any other provision of this part, ... a public entity is not liable for:... (2) An injury to any prisoner." In our opinion the county mistakenly argues that because plaintiff was a "prisoner"
2. If, as alleged, the county sheriff knew or should have known that all charges against plaintiff had been dismissed, the county is derivatively liable for the sheriff's wrongful failure to release him.
Under the facts alleged in the complaint, the county also faces derivative liability for plaintiff's alleged false imprisonment. Government Code section 820 provides that, unless immunized by statute, "a public employee is liable for injury caused by his act or omission to the same extent as a private person." Section 815.2 extends that employee liability to the public entity.
A similar result was reached in Whirl v. Kern (5th Cir.1969) 407 F.2d 781, certiorari denied 396 U.S. 901 [24 L.Ed.2d 177, 90 S.Ct. 210] in which the plaintiff sued a sheriff for deprivation of civil rights because of false imprisonment. In Whirl plaintiff was kept in jail for nine months after the dismissal of felony charges against him. The sheriff who detained him did not receive the usual individual dismissal notice from the court in plaintiff's case although he did receive, instead, a group listing of dismissals which included plaintiff's name. The sheriff claimed he did not know plaintiff's name was on the list.
In holding the sheriff liable for false imprisonment, the Whirl court stated: "The responsibility for a failure of communication between the courts and the jailhouse cannot justifiably be placed on the head of a man immured in a lockup when the action of the court has become a matter of public record. Ignorance and alibis by a jailer should not vitiate the rights of a man entitled to his freedom.... [U]nlike his prisoner, the jailer has the means, the freedom, and the duty to make necessary inquiries. [¶] ... The tort of false imprisonment is an intentional tort. [Citation omitted.] It is committed when a man intentionally deprives another of his liberty without the other's consent and without adequate legal justification. [Citations omitted.] Failure to know of a court proceeding terminating all charges against one held in custody is not, as a matter of law, adequate legal justification for an unauthorized restraint. Were the law otherwise, Whirl's nine months could easily be nine years, and those nine years, ninety-nine years, and still as a matter of law no redress would follow. The law does not hold the value of a man's freedom in such low regard. [¶] The sheriff, of course, must have some protection too. His duty to his prisoner is not breached until the expiration of a reasonable time for the proper ascertainment of the authority upon which his prisoner is detained." (407 F.2d at p. 792.)
In the first place, the plain meaning of the language in section 821.6 demonstrates that the section does not encompass the retaining of a person in prison beyond his term. According to Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1961) "institute" means "to originate and get established ... [to] initiate," and "prosecute" means "to institute legal proceedings against; esp: to accuse of some crime or breach of law or to pursue for redress or punishment of a crime or violation of law in due legal form before a legal tribunal." Thus, viewed literally, the language of the section does not reach the act of holding a person in jail beyond his term.
Second, and more importantly, the history of section 821.6 demonstrates that the Legislature intended the section to protect public employees from liability only for malicious prosecution and not for false imprisonment. The Senate Committee comment to the section states that "The California courts have repeatedly held ... public employees immune from liability for this sort of conduct. [Citing several California cases which deal with public
Furthermore, the Senate Committee comment to section 821.6 states that the section "continues the existing immunity of public employees...." While government employees were, prior to the enactment of that section, immune from liability for malicious prosecution, they were not immune from charges of false imprisonment and were liable for knowingly imprisoning a person without proper legal authority. (Abbott v. Cooper (1933) 218 Cal. 425 [23 P.2d 1027]; Oppenheimer v. City of Los
Our narrow interpretation of section 821.6's immunity, confining its reach to malicious prosecution actions, finds corroboration in another governmental immunity provision, section 820.4 discussed above. That section grants public employees immunity for their nonnegligent acts in executing or enforcing any laws but specifically provides that "[n]othing in this section exonerates a public employee from liability for false arrest or false imprisonment." The preservation of liability for false imprisonment in this corollary section demonstrates that the California Torts Claims Act distinguishes false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. It recognizes the previously existing immunity of public employees from liability for malicious prosecution but saves the existing liability for false imprisonment.
The case of Shakespeare v. City of Pasadena (1964) 230 Cal.App.2d 375 [40 Cal.Rptr. 863] supports this interpretation. In Shakespeare the plaintiff was held in jail after sufficient bail had been posted for his release. He sued for both malicious prosecution and false imprisonment. The Court of Appeal held that section 821.6 barred the malicious prosecution action but that section 820.4 specifically preserved the false imprisonment action.
Ignoring the Shakespeare case, defendant county here relies solely upon Watson v. County of Los Angeles (1967) 254 Cal.App.2d 361 [62 Cal.Rptr. 191]. In Watson the plaintiff completed a 30-day sentence and was released. Because the county clerk failed to record plaintiff's completion of his sentence, plaintiff was rearrested and imprisoned again. In affirming the dismissal of plaintiff's subsequent false imprisonment action, the Court of Appeal reasoned that the clerk's failure to record service of the sentence was the first step toward plaintiff's subsequent arrest and incarceration and therefore came within the scope of "instituting or prosecuting a criminal proceeding" under section 821.6
The Watson decision, however, has been soundly criticized by the principal architect of the California Tort Claims Act, Professor Van Alstyne, for its failure to distinguish between malicious prosecution and false imprisonment. As Professor Van Alstyne observes: "Watson, unfortunately, fails to recognize or explain how its conclusion can be squared with the distinction made in the California Tort Claims Act between malicious prosecution [citation omitted] and false imprisonment [citation omitted], or with the clear legislative history [citation omitted] demonstrating that
Since section 821.6 cannot be interpreted to defeat the common law liability for false imprisonment preserved in section 820.4, the county sheriff remains liable for his alleged knowing imprisonment of appellant.
The judgment is reversed and the cause is remanded to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Wright, C.J., Mosk, J., and Sullivan, J., concurred.
I dissent. The Legislature has made it quite clear that public entities are wholly immune from liability for any injuries to persons confined in prisons or jails, including injuries to the person, reputation, character or feelings of persons falsely imprisoned by police or prison authorities. The obvious intent of the statutory provisions which I discuss below was to provide to the public entity a broad immunity for the acts and omissions of its agents in their dealings with persons confined in prisons or jails. There is simply no basis whatever for holding, as the majority do, that persons unlawfully confined in prison cannot be considered "prisoners" under the applicable legislation. This unsound analysis could drastically undermine the legislative intent to provide broad immunity in this area, for a public entity could be held liable for all kinds of injuries to persons able to prove that they were injured while unlawfully confined in prison.
The Legislature devoted a separate chapter of the 1963 Tort Claims Act to "Police and Correctional Activities" (Gov. Code, § 844 et seq.). Section 844.6 sets forth the general rule of immunity, providing that "Notwithstanding any other provision of this part [relating to liability of public entities and employees], except as provided in this section and in [other sections not here pertinent], a public entity is not liable for:... (2) An injury to a prisoner.... (d) Nothing in this section exonerates a public employee from liability for injury proximately caused by his negligent or wrongful act or omission...."
Thus, section 844.6 immunizes public entities from liability for an "injury" to a "prisoner." Liability of the public employee, is unaffected by the section; in fact, another section provides that although a public employee is not liable for an act or omission, "exercising due care, in the execution or enforcement of any law," the section further provides that "Nothing in this section exonerates a public employee from liability for false arrest or false imprisonment." (Italics added.) Therefore, plaintiff herein may indeed have a cause of action for false imprisonment against various public employees. The question before us, however, is whether a cause of action lies against defendant county by reason of plaintiff's allegedly false imprisonment. As noted above, if plaintiff was a "prisoner" at the time of his false imprisonment, section 844.6 would immunize defendant county from liability for any "injury" he suffered as a result thereof.
The majority evidently concede that false imprisonment constitutes an "injury" within the meaning of section 844.6, since that term is broadly defined in section 810.8 to mean "death, injury to a person, damage to or loss of property, or any other injury that a person may suffer to his
It should be equally apparent that plaintiff herein was a "prisoner" under section 844.6. The majority's contrary holding ignores the plain language of the act. Thus, section 844 provides that "As used in this chapter [which includes § 844.6], `prisoner' includes an inmate of a prison, jail or penal or correctional facility." (Italics added.) The record discloses that plaintiff was indeed an inmate (as distinguished from a guard, guest or visitor) of Los Angeles County jail during the period of his allegedly false imprisonment. It seems inescapable that defendant county is immune from liability to plaintiff by reason of section 844.6.
The majority seek to escape the inescapable by reasoning that "... false imprisonment is not an `injury to a prisoner' but instead is an injury to a non-prisoner which converts him into a prisoner." (Ante, p. 716.) This peculiar logic appears based upon the unfounded and unprecedented assumption that plaintiff had become a "non-prisoner" once his term had expired. Yet a "prisoner" is an "inmate of a ... jail" (§ 844), and it is uncontradicted that plaintiff remained an inmate throughout the period in question despite his claim of illegal confinement.
The majority thus would narrowly construe the term "prisoner" to refer to one lawfully restrained. Yet the courts have refused to construe the term narrowly; "On the contrary, almost every popular dictionary as well as law dictionary and encyclopaedic work, states in words or substance that a prisoner is a person `under arrest,' `in custody,' `in jail,' `in prison'; in short, one who is being restrained involuntarily. The test is not whether he has been informed against, indicted, arraigned, tried or convicted." (Italics added; Datil v. City of Los Angeles, 263 Cal.App.2d 655, 659 [69 Cal.Rptr. 788]; see Sava v. Fuller, 249 Cal.App.2d 281 [57 Cal.Rptr. 312].) Likewise, in the instant case, the test should not be whether the person has been properly or lawfully confined, or whether he has already served his term of confinement. Rather, it is the fact of confinement itself, and not the legality thereof, which renders one a "prisoner" under section 844.6.
Since the provisions of section 844.6 immunize defendant county from the instant suit, there is no need to consider the application of other sections of the Tort Claims Act upon which liability might be based. By its terms section 844.6 immunity overrides "any other provision" in the act, including
I would affirm the judgment.
McComb, J., and Clark, J., concurred.
In passing on the motion for judgment on the pleadings the trial court improperly involved itself in the merits of whether the sheriff actually had knowledge that appellant was being illegally detained in prison. The trial judge stated in the course of argument on the motion that "[a]s a practical matter, I am going to make the assumption that there is no proof ... that the Sheriff knew ... that there were no charges pending against [plaintiff]." The issue of proof of knowledge did not arise before the trial court nor does it arise before us. For purposes of reviewing the judgment on the pleadings we must accept as true plaintiff's allegation that the sheriff had the requisite knowledge. (See Colberg, Inc. v. State of California ex rel. Dept. Pub. Wks. (1967) 67 Cal.2d 408, 411-412 [62 Cal.Rptr. 401, 432 P.2d 3]; 4 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (2d ed.) § 162, pp. 2817-2818.)
"(b) Except as otherwise provided by statute, a public entity is not liable for an injury resulting from an act or omission of an employee of the public entity where the employee is immune from liability."
The county did not contend, nor could it have successfully contended, that the sheriff was protected by section 820.2 immunity from liability for discretionary acts. Release of a prisoner after dismissal of charges against him is nondiscretionary since it is specifically mandated by Penal Code section 1384. (Cf. Elder v. Anderson (1962) 205 Cal.App.2d 326, 331 [23 Cal.Rptr. 48].)