An order granting a new trial is subject to a more liberal standard of review than an order denying one. A reviewing court will not set aside a trial court's grant of new trial absent a clear showing of abuse of discretion. However, the trial court's discretion is legal and not arbitrary and must be exercised according to reason and law.
The merchant's security guards stopped the customer in a mall parking lot because they suspected him of shoplifting a wrench. The guards detained him for 15 minutes until the police arrived. The customer and a police officer became involved in an altercation in which the customer was injured. The police officer handcuffed the customer, placed a call for a backup, and began investigating. No stolen items were found. The police cited the customer for disorderly conduct and released him. The entire detention lasted 45 minutes. The customer sued the guards for several charges including false arrest and trespass to chattel. The jury awarded the customer damages for trespass to chattel while the trial court ordered a new trial on the false arrest claim because of its error in submitting to the jury the issue of probable cause. On appeal, the customer argued that the trial court erred in granting a new trial on his false arrest claim.
Did the trial court err in granting new trial on the customer’s false arrest claim because of its alleged error in submitting the issue of probable cause to the jury?
The court held that the new trial was proper. There was probable cause to detain the customer, thus, the trial court erred in submitting the question of reasonable cause to the jury. The undisputed facts showed that the guards had reasonable cause before stopping the customer in the parking lot. One guard had talked with all sales persons on the floor in the hardware department, and none had sold the customer the wrench. The guard talked with the sales clerk who advised the guard that he believed a shoplift had occurred, and the other guard saw no receipts when he passed by the customer's bag.