Law School Case Brief
Thomas v. Schwegmann Giant Supermarket, Inc. - 561 So. 2d 992 (La. Ct. App. 1990)
In order for a plaintiff to recover from a merchant for the tort of false imprisonment, she must prove that a detention occurred under one or more of the following circumstances: (1) unreasonable force was used, (2) no reasonable cause to believe that that the suspect had committed a theft of goods existed, or (3) the detention lasted more than 60 minutes, unless it was reasonable under the circumstances that the suspect be detained longer.
While plaintiff customer Josephine Thomas was shopping with her two grandchildren, ages 2 and 4, she was seen by a security guard employed by Defendant Schwegmann Giant Supermarkets, Inc. (Schwegmann) picking up an item, opening it, and placing it in another location. The guard thought plaintiff Thomas had stolen a tube of glue from the box, which he believed was part of the product. Before Thomas left the store, the guard stopped her, took her to a private room, and questioned her for 15-20 minutes as to the tube of glue. Thomas denied having taken it. In fact, the product did not come with a tube of glue. In the customer's suit on behalf of Thomas and her grandchildren, Schwegmann was found liable for falsely detaining the customer. Defendant Schwegmann appealed, arguing that the immunity provided to store owners and operators under La. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 215 applied.
Did the trial court err when it awarded the customer damages for false imprisonment?
The court affirmed the finding that the customer was falsely detained and/or falsely imprisoned and that the store owner was not entitled to immunity for the detention under art. 215. The court found that the store owner lacked reasonable cause to detain the customer where its security guard knew or should have known that she did not steal the glue. The court opined that the guard should have examined the product, as it was in his possession, before he detained and accused the customer of stealing.
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