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McCann v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. - 210 F.3d 51 (1st Cir. 2000)

Rule:

The gist of the common law tort of false imprisonment is conduct by the actor which is intended to, and does in fact, confine another within boundaries fixed by the actor where, in addition, the victim is either conscious of the confinement or is harmed by it. 

Facts:

Employees of defendant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. ("Wal-Mart") stopped plaintiffs Debra McCann and her two children, J.M. and J.M. ("Children"), as they were leaving the store, claiming that the Children previously had been caught shoplifting, and could not come back into the store. The employees detained the McCanns until a security officer determined that the children were not the suspects who had been caught previously. Mrs. McCann, personally, and as mother and next friend of her Children, filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart in federal district court alleging a claim of false imprisonment and seeking punitive damages. Prior to trial, the trial court dismissed the claim for punitive damages. After trial, a jury awarded the McCanns $ 20,000 in compensatory damages on their claim that they were falsely imprisoned in the Wal-Mart store by Wal-Mart employees. Wal-Mart filed post-judgment motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial, arguing that the McCanns did not prove false imprisonment under Maine law and that the court's jury instructions on false imprisonment were in error. The motions were denied. Wal-Mart appealed; the McCanns cross-appealed from the district court's pre-trial dismissal of their claim for punitive damages.

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Issue:

Did the McCanns prove their false imprisonment claim?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The appellate court affirmed the district court's judgment. The court held that the McCAnns adequately proved the elements of false imprisonment. The court held the employees' actions could induce reasonable people to believe they would be restrained physically if they sought to leave, or Wal-Mart was claiming lawful authority to confine them. In addition, the court ruled that the dictrict properly dismissed the MaCanns' claim for punitive damages. The court found refusal to allow one the Children, a 12-year old boy, to use the restroom during the detainment was not outrageous, given the boy's failure to press the request.

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