The law is well settled that any general restraint is sufficient to constitute an imprisonment and any demonstration of physical power which, to all appearances, can be avoided only by submission, operates as effectually to constitute an imprisonment, if submitted to, as if any amount of force had been exercised. If a man is restrained of his personal liberty by fear of a personal difficulty, that amounts to a false imprisonment within the legal meaning of such term.
Plaintiff customer brought an action against defendant store for false imprisonment, after suffering a heart attack shortly after being stopped by a store employee before exiting the store and being escorted to see the manager because he was putting on a scarf taken out of his pocket. After trial, the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff. On appeal, the store alleged that the detention was reasonable under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, § 94B, which permitted a merchant to defend a false imprisonment claim by asserting that there were reasonable grounds for believing the person detained was attempting to commit larceny of goods. The court affirmed the decision of the trial court.
Did the evidence show that there were reasonable grounds for the detention?
The court held that the judge properly instructed the jury that grounds for detention were reasonable when there was a basis which would appear to the reasonably prudent, cautious, intelligent person. Applying the standard of reasonable grounds as measured by the prudent man test, the court held that the evidence warranted the conclusion that the store employee was not reasonably justified in believing that the customer was engaged in shoplifting.