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Reasonable Detention of Suspected Customer Defeats Claim of False Imprisonment
Description Security guard watched customer eat food and hide wrapper in store before leaving. Customer denied charges but returned to store to await arrival of police. Jury verdict in her favor of $100,000 for false imprisonment reversed. Shopkeeper has privilege to detain for reasonable time when there is reasonable suspicion.
Topic Torts
Key Words False Imprisonment, Shopkeepers Privilege
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Resendez, while shopping at Wal-Mart, ate a bag of peanuts marked with a Wal-Mart sticker. A security guard watched her eat the peanuts and then put the bag behind merchandise. She then purchased some merchandise and left the store. The guard followed her out and accused her of not paying for the peanuts. She claimed she bought the peanuts at another Wal-Mart and could prove it. She followed the guard back to the store. A police officer arrived in less than 15 minutes to arrest her. A jury later convicted her of misdemeanor theft; the conviction was overturned on a technicality. She sued Wal-Mart and was awarded $100,000 for false imprisonment. Wal-Mart appealed.
Decision Reversed. Detaining a customer for less than 15 minutes was not unreasonable given that the store had a reasonable basis for its suspicions. The shopkeeper's privilege, a defense to false imprisonment, expressly grants authority of law to detain customers to investigate ownership of property in a reasonable time and manner if there is reasonable belief that theft has occurred.
Citation Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Resendez, 962 S.W.2d 539 (Sup. Ct., Tex., 1998)

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