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In the case of a mercantile establishment utilizing an antishoplifting or inventory control device, the automatic activation of the device as a result of a person exiting the establishment or a protected area within the establishment shall constitute reasonable cause for the detention of the person so exiting. Ga. Code Ann. § 51-7-61 (b). Nevertheless, each detention shall be made only in a reasonable manner and only for a reasonable period of time sufficient for any inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the activation of the device. Ga. Code Ann. § 51-7-61 (b).
Although she had paid for all of her items, plaintiff, Edith Mitchell, activated an inventory control alarm as she left defendant Walmart Stores, Inc. The store's security guard forcibly stopped the plaintiff at the exit, grabbed her bag, and told her to step back inside. The plaintiff did so, and the security guard removed every item the customer purchased and ran it through the security gate. One item still had a security device on it. The examination lasted from 10 to 15 minutes, the security guard did not touch or threaten the plaintiff, and the plaintiff was not arrested. The plaintiff brought a tort action against the defendant store, and the trial court granted the store's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff challenged the decision, arguing that jury questions remain as to whether the manner and length of her detention were reasonable under O.C.G.A. § 51-7-60.
Did jury questions remain as to the reasonableness of plaintiff’s detention, thereby rendering the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant an error?
The court affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the store in the customer's tort action. The court held that probable cause for the forcible stop and detention was established when the customer activated the alarm. Because the detention was reasonable and there was no unlawful restraint by force or fear, the store was entitled to immunity under § 51-7-60. The court held that the store's negligence in failing to remove the inventory control device or the customer's embarrassment were not factors that would sustain a false imprisonment claim.