Law School Case Brief
Derouen v. Miller - 614 So. 2d 1304 (La. Ct. App. 1993)
In order for a merchant to escape liability for false imprisonment, the merchant must prove that a customer was detained in compliance with La. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 215 (as amended 1983) which provides in part: A. (1) A peace officer, merchant, or a specifically authorized employee or agent of a merchant, may use reasonable force to detain a person for questioning on the merchant's premises, for a length of time, not to exceed 60 minutes, unless it is reasonable under the circumstances that the person be detained longer, when he has reasonable cause to believe that the person has committed a theft of goods held for sale by the merchant, regardless of the actual value of the goods. The merchant or his employee or agent may also detain such a person for arrest by a peace officer. The detention shall not constitute an arrest.
Plaintiff Sheila Lane Derouen was shopping at a Winn Dixie grocery store managed by defendant William Miller. Another employee, Raymond Gaudet, told Miller that Derouen had put a bag of shrimp in her purse. Miller then questioned Derouen about the shrimp by falsely claiming that he saw her take the two-pound bag of shrimp out of her purse through a surveillance mirror. Derouen denied the allegation. Miller than asked Derouen to go to the back of the store with him. Subsequently, the police arrived. Derouen was escorted by a New Iberia police officer through the front of the store and, upon reaching the outside, was put into the rear of the police vehicle. Derouen was then taken to the police station and booked. As a result of her arrest, Derouen had to defend herself in a criminal trial where she was eventually found not guilty. The trial judge ruled in favor of Derouen, finding that Winn Dixie acted unreasonably in failing to question Derouen about the bag of shrimp before calling the police. Derouen then filed the present case, seeking for damages for illegal detention or false imprisonment. The trial court ruled in favor of Derouen. On appeal, defendants argued that the trial court misinterpreted La. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 215 (as amended 1983) by requiring that the customer's detention had to be followed by reasonable questioning and the damages were excessive.
Under La. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 215 (as amended 1983), should a customer’s detention have to be followed by reasonable questioning?
The Court held that the purpose of C.Cr.P. art. 215 is to provide merchants with authority to detain and question persons suspected of shoplifting without subjecting them to suits by those detained persons on the basis of false imprisonment when the merchant has reasonable cause to believe a theft of goods has occurred. The amendment protected merchants who have conducted a reasonable post-detention inquiry and held the person for arrest, when that person was subsequently found not guilty or when the shoplifting charge is dismissed. Thus, the Court held that the trial court did not err by requiring that Miller's detention of Derouen, based upon reasonable cause, be followed by reasonable questioning. If questioning and reasonable investigation was performed and probable cause was established, then a merchant may hold a detained person for arrest by a police officer.
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