SW Legal studies in Business

Racial Profiling of Shoplifter by Store Does Not Violate Civil Rights Statute
Description Appeals court affirmed dismissal of suit by an African-American store customer who was arrested for shoplifting. Even if the reason store employees watched him with particular care was because of his race, it did not create a cause of action for violation of his civil rights for him.
Topic Torts
Key Words False Imprisonment; Malicious Prosecution; Civil Rights; Shoplifting
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Youngblood, an African-American, was at a Hy-Vee food store when he was observed by an employee who thought he was spending a long time at a selection of beef jerky, that his behavior was suspicious, and that he had his hands under his shirt several times. Youngblood bought a small amount of jerky. As he headed for the exit, a Hy-Vee employee stopped him and asked to see what he had. His bag was now filled with much more jerky than he had paid for. Youngblood waited about twenty minutes for the police, who had been called immediately, to arrive. The officer arrested Youngblood, but the charges were later dismissed. Youngblood sued for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and violation of his civil rights. The trial court dismissed the suit; Youngblood appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. Youngblood's civil rights were not violated; the store had the right to retrieve its merchandise from him. His arrest by the police did not make the store a "state actor" subject to liability for discrimination in prosecution, even if store employees suspected him of shoplifting on the basis of his race. The store had the right to invoke state legal procedures, whether those procedures resulted in conviction or not. The store had probable cause to suspect Youngblood of shoplifting, so it is not liable to him for false imprisonment or malicious prosecution, even if the criminal charges were later dismissed.

Citation Youngblood v. Hy-Vee Food Stores, Inc., 266 F.3d 851 (8th Cir., 2001)

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