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An employer may be vicariously liable for torts committed by its employees, but such liability does not extend to torts committed by an independent contractor. Whether a person is an agent or employee will depend on whether the employer had the ability to control the time, manner, and method of executing the work. Under Georgia law, two elements must be present to render a master liable for his servant's actions under respondeat superior: first, the servant must be in furtherance of the master's business; and, second, he must be acting within the scope of his master's business. The question of whether the servant at the time of an injury to another was acting in the prosecution of his master's business and in the scope of his employment is for determination by the jury, except in plain and indisputable cases.
While shopping at Walmart in October 2014, Tyrone Carnegay was arrested and beaten by off-duty police officer Trevor King after the store's loss prevention officer, Ariana Boyd, believed she observed Carnegay shoplifting a tomato. The charges against Carnegay were ultimately dropped, and he filed a civil suit against King, Boyd, and Walmart, alleging battery and false imprisonment. The trial court granted Walmart and Boyd's motion for summary judgment and denied Carnegay's cross-motion, and this appeal followed.
Was King an agent of Walmart and therefore Walmart can be liable for Carnegay’s battery claim?
The court held that the the trial court properly granted summary judgment to Walmart, on Carnegay’s battery claim because King was acting solely in his capacity as a police officer when he arrested the customer and began striking him and there was no evidence from which a jury could have concluded that the loss prevention officer or the retailer directed the conduct. The trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the false imprisonment claim because there were questions of fact as to whether the belief that Carnegay had shoplifted was reasonable and whether the manner of detention was reasonable. Because the false imprisonment claims survived summary judgment, any resolution of the punitive damages claim and the request for attorney fees was improper.