Law School Case Brief
Ky. Fried Chicken of Cal. v. Superior Court - 14 Cal. 4th 814, 59 Cal. Rptr. 2d 756, 927 P.2d 1260 (1997)
A shopkeeper does not have a duty to patrons to comply with the unlawful demand of an armed robber that property be surrendered. Recognition of a duty to comply with an unlawful demand would be contrary to public policy as it would encourage similar unlawful conduct.
A customer was the only patron in a fried chicken restaurant where he was accosted and held hostage by an armed robber who demanded money from an employee. When an employee told the robber that they would have to go to the back room to get the key, the robber became agitated and said he would shoot the hostage unless the employee opened the register. Only after the customer screamed at the cashier to open the register and give him the money, did the cashier reluctantly comply with the robber's demands. When the employee finally complied, the robber took the money and fled. The customer sued the restaurant for allegations that the employee did not comply promptly with the demands, and such caused further injury to complainant. The restaurant argued that it had no duty to protect the customer by complying with a robber's demands and requested summary judgment. The trial court denied defendant's summary judgment motion on the grounds that a duty of care existed and that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether this duty was breached. The restaurant applied for a writ of mandate, seeking to overturn the denial of summary judgment. The appellate court concluded that a shopkeeper owed a duty to a patron to comply with an armed robber's demand for money in order to avoid increasing the risk of harm to patrons. The restaurant appealed.
Does a shopkeeper owe a duty to its patrons to comply with an armed robber's demand for money in order to avoid increasing the risk of harm to patrons?
The court reversed the judgment of the appellate court. The court concluded that a shopkeeper does not have a duty to comply with the unlawful demand of an armed robber that property be surrendered. Recognition of a duty to comply with an unlawful demand would be contrary to public policy as it would encourage similar unlawful conduct. The court noted that no state had held in similar cases that a shopkeeper had a duty to comply with a robber's demands. The court found that a simple refusal to obey did not breach any duty to third persons present on the premises. The court was not satisfied that persons who commit armed robbery would not become aware of and be encouraged by the existence of such a duty. Moreover, the court had no basis upon which to conclude that compliance actually prevents injury to robbery victims. The public as a whole is much better served if would-be robbers are deterred by knowledge that their victims have no legal duty to comply with the robber's demands and are under no duty to surrender their property in order to protect third persons from possible injury.
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