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Moffatt v. Buffums' Inc. (1937) - 21 Cal. App. 2d 371, 69 P.2d 424 (1937)

Rule:

Cal. Civ. Code §§ 19811986 do not authorize an employer to forcibly detain the person of an employee for the purpose of compelling a confession of a theft of the employer's property at some prior time.

Facts:

On July 30, 1935, plaintiff Rose Moffatt, an employee of defendant, Buffums' Inc., at the request of defendant Galbreth, who was secretary and treasurer of the defendant corporation, went to the office of the general manager in the building belonging to defendant corporation. Upon entering the office, the door was closed behind her by Galbreth, who then introduced Moffatt to defendant Watson, also an employee of defendant corporation. After Moffatt was seated at Watson's request, the latter accused her of stealing a sum of money belonging to Buffums' Inc., which Moffatt denied. Such accusations and denials were repeatedly made for the greater part of five hours, the approximate time during which Moffatt was detained in the office. Watson informed Moffatt that she was not there to explain anything, but was there on a charge of stealing the money; also, she was informed that Watson was a "Government man." Watson, after repeated attempts, finally secured a written confession of such theft from Moffatt, but only after forcibly restraining Moffatt, against her will, from leaving the office. The defendant Galbreth was out of the office during most of the five-hour period, but was present briefly on several occasions, at which times he conversed with Watson, out of Moffatt’s hearing.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in dismissing Moffatt’s false imprisonment action?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court held that there was prima facie evidence of false imprisonment where Moffatt had expressed her desire to depart, had been told that she could not leave until she had signed a confession and, upon attempting to leave, had been forcibly detained. Cal. Civ. Code §§ 19811986 did not authorize an employer to forcibly detain an employee for the purpose of compelling a confession of a theft of the employer's property at some prior time. The alleged offense had been completed and the manner of detention was unreasonable. The facts in evidence were such that the inference could reasonably be drawn that the false imprisonment was under the active supervision and direction of the officer and the employer.

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