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Can I file a false imprisonment case in small claims court or does it have to be civil court

Lawton, OK |

I was falsely held by a retail store clerk. I spoke to a few lawyers and they said that I possibly have a case for false imprisonment, but the amount that I would recover wouldn't be worth hiring a lawyer for and that I should file on my own. I assume they meant file in small claims but I'm not sure and I forgot to ask if a false imprisonment case can be filed in small claims or if it has to be filed in higher court. Can a false imprisonment case be filed in small claims court? Thank you

Attorney Answers 3

  1. False imprisonment against a retail store clerk is a difficult case in Oklahoma due to the privilege in the statutes that states: Any merchant, his agent or employee, who has reasonable grounds or probable cause to believe that a person has committed or is committing a wrongful taking of merchandise or money from a mercantile establishment, may detain such person in a reasonable manner for a reasonable length of time for all or any of the following purposes:
    (a) Conducting an investigation, including reasonable interrogation of the detained person, as to whether there has been a wrongful taking of such merchandise or money;
    (b) Informing the police or other law enforcement officials of the facts relevant to such detention;
    (c) Performing a reasonable search of the detained person and his belongings when it appears that the merchandise or money may otherwise be lost; and
    (d) Recovering the merchandise or money believed to have been taken wrongfully. Any such reasonable detention shall not constitute an unlawful arrest or detention, nor shall it render the merchant, his agent or employee criminally or civilly liable to the person so detained.

    But if you can get past that statute, it does appear that you can pursue your claim in small claims court as the statute allows as follows: "he following suits may be brought under the small claims procedure:
    1. Actions for the recovery of money based on contract or tort,..., in which the amount sought to be recovered, exclusive of attorney fees and other court costs, does not exceed Seven Thousand Five Hundred Dollars ...

    You are facing a difficult case, but you do have a quick method to prosecute your claim.

  2. One thought you should carefully consider before proceeding is whether it is truly worth your time, talent and treasure, emotionally or financially, to pursue the action.

    Being able to do X is not the same as X being a whale of an idea.

  3. If you're willing to risk losing the filing fee and possibly paying attorney fees to the retail store, then go for it. But, as stated in a previous answer to your question, it will be a difficult case to win. You might want to write a nasty letter, or report the store to the Better Business Bureau instead.

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