Can a claim of False Imprisonment be filed against a retail store & manager for holding a 15 year old in a locked office?

Asked over 1 year ago - Bethesda, MD

15 y . o . was shopping & trying on clothes w / a friend . She also changed from her school uniform to street clothes while in fitting rm . One of the shirts she was trying on accidentally got mixed in with her clothes she put back in her bag . The sensor went off , the guy by the exit asked to check her bag & discovered the shirt . She explained it must have gotten mixed in & gave it to him . He said : " this happens all the time , just need to tell my manager . " Manager came , instructed teen to come w / her . Took her to a locked room , questioned her , demanded social security # , DOB , address , and accused her of lying . Stated that she would arrest her & have her banned from shopping mall unless she confessed to stealing . Teen didn't . Teen is a respected honor student who has never convicted of anything .

Additional information

The girl never left the store. Her friend was asked to leave. The manager never identified herself or informed her of her intent. When the mother & I asked for information regarding who was involved & the loss prevention supervisor's name, the manager refused stating: "We do not give out personal information." I pointed out this was not personal, it was buisness. She stayed w/ her reply. Isn't it coercion if the manager was threatening to keep the girl locked up in this room, have her banned from the mall, etc. unless she admitted to stealing? If she really suspected her of stealing, wouldn't she call the police or at least mall security? The girl was held for at least 30 min. Is that one thing enough for Probable Cause?

Attorney answers (5)

  1. Jonathan Neal Portner


    Contributor Level 14


    Lawyers agree

    Answered . The store manager was doing his job after the minor made a misatke. The incident didnt last long and was proper procedure.

    Jonathan N. Portner, Esquire, Portner & Shure, P.A. Maryland and Virginia Personal Injury Attorneys. This... more
  2. Sonila Isak

    Contributor Level 9


    Lawyers agree

    Answered . The store manager was privileged in holding the potential shoplifter for a REASONABLE period of time to prove or dispel his suspicions of shoplifting. This actions of the store manager are very fact sensitive regarding his/her conduct in interrogating the 15 y/old. Probably not worth pursuing without extreme or outrageous conduct on the managers part.

  3. Rixon Charles Rafter III

    Contributor Level 20


    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Not on the facts you provided. Your daughter was apprehended with items she did not purchase, apparently outside the store doors.

    As a general rule (I am not a MD attorney) merchants may detain suspected shoplifters, just as you describe, when loss prevention has reason to suspect a crime has occured. Your daughter is lucky the manager believed her and did not call the police.

    You may receive a letter in the mail, commonly refered to as a demand letter. It will be from a law firm representing the store--it may demand several hundred dollars in payment, for the event. Most attorneys advise that those letters be ignored as they do not impact whether the retailer will contact the police or not.

    If your daughter receiveds something from the court--pay close attention to what it says and follow the instructions, AND hire a criminal defense attorney.

    FInally, you MAY want to consult an attorney regarding the 'locked office' and the exact circumstances of the detention by LP--however, I don't believe you have any grounds to bring a suit.

    READ THIS BEFORE CALLING OR EMAILING ME: I am licensed to practice before the state and federal courts in Virginia.... more
  4. Christine C McCall


    Contributor Level 20


    Lawyers agree

    Answered . A few considerations for you to weigh in this matter:

    The store has heard this exact identical story about this "mistake" 1000+ times -- and so will any juvenile court judge if your daughter is summoned into court. It's even possible it is true, but it will never be believed because it has been cited as the explanation in these circumstances so many times for so many years in so many shoplift cases. It is literally in the top five of "explanations."

    I don't understand your reference to your daughter's scholastic record. Are you under the impression that 15-year-olds who get good grades don't steal? That is not the case. Again, all judges who are assigned to juvenile court know that smart kids and academically-inclined kids break the law, too -- just like pretty girls, athletic girls,musically-talented girls, girls who ride bikes and girls who bake cookies. You get the point. Stealing somehow doesn't correlate to any of those gifts.

    Why do you find fault with the way in which the store handled this matter? How do you propose that a store act when they reasonably suspect someone of theft? Do you think it is unreasonable for a store to suspect theft when the sensor goes off and -- sure enough -- store merchandise is concealed in a bag? Just what procedures would you prescribe for the business-owner in that circumstance? What kind of financial punishment were you hoping to inflict on the store here -- and why?

    In fact, you and your family are at much greater risk for problems and disappointment in your expectations for the future in the discovery about your daughter's conduct than you are from the store's typical and unremarkable manner of handling this matter.

    You may want to consider the alternatives to the path you have set out on here. Consider the possibility that your daughter has a problem, one that may be susceptible of effective correction before it becomes a feature of her adult character and record. It may serve your daughter's long-term interests for someone in her life to recognize this incident as evidence that she is not yet "fully-baked" and needs attention, direction, instruction, and correction. What is doubtful is that she needs the experience of being a claimant in a lawsuit in which her parent is pretending (to her? to himself/herself? to the rest of the world?) that she was wronged.

    Just food for thought.

    My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice.... more
  5. Bennett James Wills


    Contributor Level 17


    Lawyer agrees

    Answered . What you describe can be known as shopkeeper's privilege. This allows a "shopkeeper" to reasonably detain someone they think has committed theft. From what you describe, the manager committed no wrongs. Instead of worrying about filing a false imprisonment case against the manager, you should feel lucky the police did not get involved and charge your daughter with theft and let this one go.

    This is not legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. This is for education and... more

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