False Imprisonment case
Was Jane arrested and would such an arrest give rise to a cause of action for false imprisonment?
There is a strong basis to argue that Jane was arrested giving rise to a cause of action for false imprisonment. For there to be arrest, manual restraint is not necessary, there must be its equivalent in some sort of personal coercion. We may not be able to prove the elements of false imprisonment which are intent to confine, arrest, and consciousness of confinement but we can prove some form of personal coercion. When a store employee detains something of value to a customer and the item detained is something a reasonable person would not leave without, the customer has been detained. We could reasonably argue that the act of Brett in taking Jane’s dog and her purchases to make sure that she would follow him inside the store is tantamount to personal coercion and therefore equivalent to an arrest.
STATEMENT OF THE FACTS
Jane Walker went to a local pet store to buy dog food and treats. She brought her mixed-breed dog with her.
While in the store, Jane placed a 30-pound bag of dog food (priced at $21.99) in her cart. She then browsed through the aisles looking at toys and treats to buy for her dog. She placed several treats and toys in her cart, including some pigs’ ears (priced at $1.59). She then went to the cash register to pay.
The cashier rang up all the items in the cart, placed them back in the cart after scanning them, and sent Jane on her way. An off-duty store clerk named Brett Beiter asked Jane if he could help her to her car. Since the bag of dog food was so heavy, she said yes. Although Brett was not in any kind of uniform, Jane assumed he was a store employee.
Once outside, Brett loaded the dog food and most of the other items into the trunk of Jane’s car. When he picked up the pigs’ ears he said that he saw the cashier ring her up and that she didn’t pay for the pigs’ ears. Jane said she paid for those and asked Brett to load them into her car. Brett refused and instead asked her to go back in the store to ask the cashier. Jane refused. Brett then grabbed Jane’s dog and the pigs’ ears and went inside the store.
Jane followed him inside, and Brett questioned her for about fifteen minutes in front of other customers. The cashier took some time to review receipts and said that Jane had paid for the ears. Brett then gave Jane the dog and the ears and wished her a nice day.
Jane wants to sue for false imprisonment.
MCLA 600.2917 (Stat Ann 1962 Rev 27A.2917)
In any civil action against a merchant, his or its agent, for false imprisonment, unlawful arrest, assault, battery, libel or slander, if the claim arose out of conduct involving a person suspected of removing or of attempting to remove from a store without right or permission goods held for sale therein, where the merchant, his or its agent had probable cause for believing and did believe that the plaintiff had committed or aided or abetted in the larceny of goods held for sale in the store, no damages for or resulting from mental anguish and no punitive, exemplary or aggravated damages shall be allowed a plaintiff, excepting when it is proved that the merchant, or his or its agent used unreasonable force or detained plaintiff an unreasonable length of time or acted with unreasonable disregard of plaintiff’s rights or sensibilities or acted with intent to injure plaintiff.
Was Jane arrested and would such an arrest give rise to a cause of action for false imprisonment?
There must be an arrest for there to be false imprisonment.
We could show that Jane was arrested by Brett. The elements of false imprisonment are intent to confine, arrest, and consciousness of confinement. The arrest must be against the will of the person confined. An arrest can be affected either through physical constraint or personal coercion that is the equivalent of physical constraint. When a store employee detains something of value to a patron and the item detained is something a reasonable person would not leave without, the patron has been coerced and thus arrested. Brett took her dog and thereby leaving Jane with no choice but to follow him inside the store where she was subjected to questioning by Brett in front of other customers. We can prove that the act of Brett in taking her dog and her merchandise amounted to personal coercion and tantamount to an arrest.
Although case laws may be conflicting in their findings, they have been consistent in their reiteration of the elements of false imprisonment and the definition of an “arrest. We can prove that Jane’s case falls within the established definition.
In Bruce v. Meijers Supermarket, Inc., (34 Mich. App. 352, 191 N.W.2d 132 (Ct. App. 1971), the court reiterated the rule that while manual restraint is not necessary, there must be its equivalent in some sort of personal coercion. This is a case against a supermarket for false imprisonment.
In the case, a customer was shopping and she picked up two pieces of panties and placed them in her cart. Later through inadvertence, she had left the two panties on a counter other than from where she got them from. She then proceeded to the cashier where she paid for all her purchases. After she had left the store, she was stopped by a man who had asked her where the items he had observed in her cart but which were not in the items she checked out at the counter. He had insisted that she shows him where she had left the items. that she picked up in the store but did not pay for when she checked out. Although the man was not wearing a uniform and did not show any identification, the customer assumed that he was an employee of the store. The man made repeated requests for her to go back inside the store and show him where she had left the merchandise. She indicated that she wanted to leave because she was feeling ill and that children will be home soon for lunch. The customer had voluntarily opened her purse and clothing to show that she did not take anything she did not pay for. Once the customer complied with the man’s request and accompanied him back inside the store, she quickly found the merchandise lying on a counter adjacent to the lingerie display. She then left the premises without further incident.
In holding that there was no false imprisonment, the court reaffirmed the definition of an arrest in the case of People v. Gonzales, 356 Mich 247 (1959) as “the taking, seizing, or detaining of the person of another, either by touching or putting hands on him, or by any act which indicates an intention to take him into custody and subjects the person arrested to the actual control and will of the person making the arrest. The act relied upon as constituting an arrest must have been performed with the intent to effect an arrest and must have been so understood by the party arrested.” The court reasoned that because when the man observed that the customer picked out some items and did not check them out at the cashier, he was justified in stopping the customer for questioning to find out if she had stolen anything. Furthermore, the court said that there was no indication that the customer was being taken in custody or is detained to be delivered to authorities to answer a criminal charge. Moreover, the customer had voluntarily opened her purse for inspection by the store employee.
The facts of the case of Bruce differ from Jane’s case in that there was no indication that Jane was suspected of taking anything in the store. She finished paying for her purchases and Brett just offered to help her load her things to her vehicle. It was only when he was already loading Jane’s purchases did he notice the pigs’ ears and told her that he didn’t see her pay for those. It can be argued that from this point on, Brett had the intention to detain Jane because of his insistence that he didn’t see her pay for the pigs’ ears. If he had seen her not pay for the pigs’ ears, he could have called her attention to that fact while she was still at the cashier counter.
While involving almost the same set of facts as the case of Bruce, the case of Clarke v. K Mart Corp., 197 Mich. App. 541, 495 N.W.2d 820 (Ct. App. 1992) is distinguishable. In Clarke, a customer was shopping with her children and sister. They had purchased many items including bed sheets. While the items were being rung up, the cashier accidentally rang the sheets twice. While waiting for the over ring to be voided, she set aside the items and then place them directly in the customer’s bag. A store supervisor only saw a portion of this transaction where the sheets were being placed in the bag without being rung up. When the customer was about to leave, she approached her with another supervisor. They took the customer’s bag and told her that it was a routine package check. She was detained for about ten to fifteen minutes while the items were being matched with her receipt. She was given $10 for her inconvenience. The court ruled that although there was no indication that the customer’s movements were restricted, the fact that the supervisors detained the customer’s merchandise worth a sizeable amount, it constituted a sort of personal coercion tantamount to an impermissible arrest. The court added that even if they have probable cause to detain and question her, the customer can still file an action for false imprisonment although her damages will be reduced.
Although there was an allegation of probable cause in both cases, the courts in those two cases arrived at different results. The difference in the ruling in the cases of Bruce and Clarke could be based on the fact that in Bruce, the customer had voluntarily offered to have her purse checked to prove that she had not taken anything while in Clarke, there was some form of “force” when the customer’s bag was taken from her to be inspected. That “force” was probably the basis of the court for finding that there was some form of coercion amounting to an arrest.
Given the similarity in the facts of the Clarke case and Jane’s case where her dog and her merchandise were taken inside the store without her consent, it is probable that the court would rule that there is an arrest in her case. She had no choice but to follow inside the store where she was subjected to questioning. Although she was at liberty to go, she couldn’t leave at the risk of losing her dog and her purchases. She had not voluntarily offered her items for inspection and instead her dog was taken together with her purchases. The act of taking her dog and her merchandise could be argued as a form of coercion and amounting to an arrest. An argument saying that Jane voluntarily followed Brett in the store and is therefore not arrested can be countered by saying that Jane did not follow Brett voluntarily. She only followed him inside the store because he has her dog and her purchases. This by itself is tantamount to coercion.
Although the cases of Moore v. City of Detroit, 252 Mich. App. 384, 652 N.W.2d 688 (Ct. App. 2002) and Tumbarella v. the Kroger Co., 85 Mich. App. 482, 271 N.W.2d 284 (Ct. App. 1978) both reiterated the elements of false imprisonment, they have different sets of facts in that these cases involve employees suing for false imprisonment.
The court in Moore reiterated the elements of false imprisonment which are “ an act committed with the intention of confining another,  the act directly or indirectly results in such confinement, and  the person confined is conscious of his confinement.
In this case, an employee returned to his former workplace without seeking the permission of the management and at a time that he knew was inappropriate for employees to be in the premises. Moreover, he participated in activities he knew was against company rules. The court found that there was no arrest in this case because there was insufficient evidence presented to show that the employee was confined or restrained for any significant period in any part of the premises thus failing to prove the second element of false imprisonment. The court went to reason further that even if the employee was locked in some enclosure, brief confinements or restraints are insufficient for false imprisonment.
The case of Moore may not be in point to support the case of Jane for false imprisonment. Although the Moore court reiterated the elements of false imprisonment, the two cases differ significantly in material facts. In Moore, there was no restriction of freedom of movement nor was there any coercion used. It was the employee who let himself into the premises knowing fully well that he should not be there. In Jane’s case, she was left with little choice but to follow back into the store because the store employee had detained things of value to her. Unlike in Moore where the employee was not locked in any enclosure or any part of the facility, it could be said that Jane is held against her will inside the store because she was not there of her own accord but only because of her willingness to get back her dog and the items she purchased.
In Tumbarella, the employee was a cashier. In one of her shifts, she had two unusual transactions. The first one involved a man who ran through her line and tossed $2 on the counter. The man was carrying a six-pack beer and said that the money was for his beer. The second transaction involved a woman who ran through her line carrying what appeared to be a roast. The woman tossed $5.10 on the counter and left. The employee tried to call her back for her receipt but the woman was gone. She then placed the money on her register slab and finished ringing up the other customers. She asked her fellow employee how much the beer was and proceeded to ring the amount. Not knowing how much the roast was, she had intended to ask her night manager what to do with money when her shift ends. She had closed her register and proceeded to do some personal shopping before leaving for the night. She took the $5 with her. After completing her shopping, she went to her cash register, got her purse and extracted $4 to pay for her purchases. It was at this point that two men approached her and introduced themselves as security officers. They asked her where the money was. When she indicated that she didn’t know what she was talking about, the two men escorted her to the backroom and questioned her about the transaction. They also emptied her purse and found the $5 bill. They took her to the front office for a conference with the night manager. After ten minutes, she was fired. She then commenced an action for false imprisonment.
The court disagreed with the contention of the store’s security officers that because they had probable cause to believe that the employee took money from the store, they had the absolute right and privilege to detain her. The court cited as applicable to the case MCL 600.2917; MSA 27A.2917 which provides that when a shopkeeper suspects a person of “removing or of attempting to remove from a store without right or permission goods held for sale therein”, the shopkeeper does not enjoy the absolute privilege to detain or defame the person. The court went on to say that even if there was probable cause to suspect the person of stealing, this would only preclude recovery of damages for mental anguish and punitive damages. Probable cause therefore is not a basis for detention or arrest.
Unlike the employees in the two cases above, at no time was Jane under any suspicion of stealing anything from the store. Brett was not motivated by suspicion when he offered to help Jane load her purchases onto her vehicle. There was therefore no basis for him to question her. Furthermore, Jane was subjected to humiliation and emotional distress when she was questioned in front of other customers. Following the ruling of the Tumbarella court, even assuming that Brett had suspected Jane of taking something without paying for it, it did not give him the right to detain and humiliate Jane in front of the other customers. Moreover, because Jane was certain that she has paid for all her purchases, when Brett took his dog and the pigs’ ears, it could be argued that she was in a position of protecting her property. This could further give basis for an additional claim of damages for infliction of emotional distress.
It appears that there might be sufficient evidence to show that Jane was arrested giving rise to basis to file a claim for false imprisonment. The act of Brett of taking Jane’s dog and her purchases would fall under the definition of an arrest through some form of personal coercion. Jane’s case could find support in the cases of Bruce v. Meijers Supermarkets, Inc., 34 Mich. App. 352, 191 N.W.2d 132 (Ct. App. 1971) and Clarke v. K Mart Corp, 197 Mich. App. 541, 495 N.W.2d 820 (Ct. App. 1992), two cases involving stores and their customers. Although the two cases have different outcomes, the rules reiterated by the courts would fully support Jane’s position that she was arrested. The act of Brett in taking the dog, although not involving manual restraint, is tantamount to physical coercion in that Jane was forced to follow him inside the store because he took and detained Jane’s dog who she cannot reasonably left behind.