South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Mistake by Store in Providing Police Information Not Basis of False Imprisonment Suit
Description Texas high court held that Wal-Mart could not be held liable for false imprisonment when the information it provided to the police about a hot check turned out to be incorrect. Since the information was an innocent mistake, and the decision to arrest is that of the police, not the store, there could be no liability.
Topic Torts
Key Words False Imprisonment; False Information; Employee
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts When Rodriguez worked for R&C Enterprises, he bought supplies for R&C at a Wal-Mart store with an R&C check. Rodriguez gave his driver's license as identification, which was entered in the computer system. Later, when another R&C check given to Wal-Mart bounced, the system identified Rodriguez as the party responsible for R&C checks, even though he no longer worked for R&C. Rodriguez was arrested for using a hot check, but after his story was checked out, the charges were dropped. He sued Wal-Mart for false imprisonment. The trial court dismissed the case; the appeals court reversed in favor of Rodriguez; Wal-Mart appealed.
Decision

Reversed. Wal-Mart did not knowingly provide false information to the state to instigate the arrest, so there can be no false imprisonment claim. A private citizen who reports a suspected crime and identifies a suspect to law enforcement authorities has not directed the arrest and will not be liable for instigating a false imprisonment. Wal-Mart's check security system is not foolproof, but it was reasonable. It had no way to know that the identification provided was no longer relevant to the checking account in question. Had the false information been provided to police knowingly, then there could be liability for false arrest.

Citation Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Rodriguez, --- S.W.3d --- (2002 WL 31259885, Sup. Ct., Tex., 2002)

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