Summary judgment is proper only when a movant establishes there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c). A defendant is entitled to summary judgment if the evidence disproves as a matter of law at least one element of each of the plaintiff's causes of action.
An agent of appellee store publicly accused appellant customer of stealing and called the police. Appellant remained in the store until the police arrived, for fear of being labeled a fugitive from justice if he left. Thereafter, appellant brought suit against appellee for false imprisonment and defamation, and the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellee. The reviewing court reversed and held that plaintiff sufficiently demonstrated a question of fact regarding whether his detention was effected by a threat inspiring a just fear of injury to his reputation, or whether he consented to stay in the store.
Did the court err in reversing the ruling of the trial court on the topic of summary judgment?
To invoke the privilege on summary judgment, Stop-N-Go was required to conclusively establish that the defamatory statement was made without malice. Thus, Calhoun's statement would be qualifiedly privileged if it was made to the clerk in the process of investigating the suspected theft. However, Calhoun's accusations were made publicly to Grant in the store in front of several other patrons. He loudly accused Grant of being a thief.
The shopkeeper's privilege does not protect Stop-N-Go from Grant's claim for defamation, and Stop-N-Go did not conclusively establish that it was entitled to a qualified privilege. Therefore, summary judgment was improper on the defamation claim.