Law School Case Brief
Wal-Mart Stores v. Resendez - 962 S.W.2d 539 (Tex. 1998)
In a false imprisonment case, if the alleged detention was performed with the authority of law, then no false imprisonment occurred. The shopkeeper's privilege, codified at Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 124.001, expressly grants an employee the authority of law to detain a customer to investigate the ownership of property in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable period of time if the employee has a reasonable belief that the customer has stolen or is attempting to steal store merchandise.
While browsing at Wal-Mart, Lucia Resendez began to eat from a bag of peanuts marked with a Wal-Mart price sticker. Raul Salinas, Wal-Mart’s security guard, followed Resendez into the parking lot where he accused her of theft. Resendez denied the claim saying that she bought the peanuts from another Wal-Mart store and that she could present the receipt. Eventually, Resendez followed Salinas back to the store and was arrested by the police after 10-15 minutes.
A jury convicted Resendez of misdemeanor theft. Later, the Court of Appeals overturned her conviction because of a defect in the charging instrument.
Resendez then sued Wal-Mart for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. The jury awarded Resendez $100,000 for the false imprisonment claim and $25,000 for the negligence claim. The Court of Appeals modified the judgment, eliminating the $25,000 recovery because it was a double recovery, and affirmed the judgment as modified. Wal-Mart sought further appellate review.
Was Wal-Mart guilty of false imprisonment when its employee detained Resendez before turning her over to the police?
The Court ruled that the time of Resendez’ detention at Wal-Mart was reasonable. Also, there was probable cause for Salinas to believe that Resendez committed theft.
The Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ ruling that internal policies of a private business define the permissible scope of a detention authorized by law. Also, the Court ruled that the shopkeeper’s privilege does not require Salinas to confirm or refute Resendez’ claims.
The Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals.
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