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Law School Case Brief

Black v. Kroger Co. - 527 S.W.2d 794 (Tex. Civ. App. 1975)

Rule:

False imprisonment in Texas is the direct restraint by one person of the physical liberty of another without adequate legal justification. Its essential elements are: (1) a wilful detention of the person; (2) a detention without authority of law; and (3) a detention without the consent of the party detained. Where it is contended that the unlawful detention is brought about by threat, it must be shown that the threat was such as would inspire in the threatened person a just fear of injury to his or her person, reputation or property. 

Facts:

Plaintiff Cathy E. Black sued her former employer, defendant Kroger Co., in Texas state court alleging that she had been illegally detained by the company's agents who had accused her of theft by failing to ring up purchases of merchandise while employed as a checker at one of its grocery stores. The jury found that Kroger, through its agents, servants or employees had caused Black to be falsely imprisoned; that prior to the date in question, Black had failed to ring up purchases of merchandise and that Kroger had a reasonable belief that she had failed to record such purchases. The jury failed to find, however, that Kroger had detained Black in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable period of time for the purpose of investigating her activity. The jury found the sum of $25,700 would be reasonable compensation for the expenses incurred in obtaining her release and for her physical and mental suffering. The trial court entered a take nothing judgment non obstante veredicto. Black appealed.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in rendering a take nothing judgment non obstante veredicto in Black's suit for damages for false imprisonment?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment and rendered in favor of Black in the sum of $ 25,700 and interest at the legal rate, together with costs of the suit, including costs of the appeal. The court found that the jury could reasonably have concluded that Kroger's agents intimidated Black to the degree that she was unable to exercise her free will to leave the interview and was unreasonably detained. The court found that Black had been extremely frightened and embarrassed by the incident, that subsequent to the occurrence she was always worried and irritable, that she no longer enjoyed the association of several of her fellow employees, that her reputation had been damaged, and that the jury award was reasonable compensation for the expenses incurred in obtaining her release and for her physical and mental suffering for an unreasonable detention.

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