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

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 .

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?

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Attorney answers 5

Posted

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 response is general information and not legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. This response should not be relied upon. Please note that no attorney-client relationship exists between the sender and the recipient of this message in the absence of either (1) a signed fee contract and (2) remission of an agreed-upon retainer. Absent such an agreement and retainer, I am not engaged by you as an attorney, nor is any other member of my law firm

Asker

Posted

Wouldn't the managing be required to identify herself first, then inform the girl of her intent first? Then wouldn't it only be reasonable for her to hold her in her office until she contacted her parents or police?

Asker

Posted

Thank you for your response.

Posted

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. We have not established an attorney-client relationship unless we have a signed representation agreement and you have paid me. I am providing educational instruction only--not legal advice. You should speak with an attorney to whom you have provided all the facts, before you take steps that may impact your legal rights. I am not obligated to answer subsequent emails or phone calls unless you have hired me. I wish you the best of luck with your situation.

Asker

Posted

This is not my daughter. It's the daughter of a friend of mine who babysits for me on occasion & I completely trust. From my experience with her, I trust her inherently and find her honest to a fault. She never left the store with the merchandise. The minute it was discovered, she gave it to the guy at the door.

Posted

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. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.

Asker

Posted

This girl is not my daughter. She is the daughter of a friend of mine who babysits for me on occasion. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I have found her to be very homest & completely trust her. The only reason why I brought up honor student is because it does reflect on her character. You are quite right though in stating that just because of that, she is not immune to doing unacceptable things. From my experience with this particular girl though, I have no doubt that this was in fact an innocent mistake. The shirts value was $15. When questioned, she also stated: "I wasn't interested in this shirt. If I wanted it, I have the money to buy it." She pulled out her wallet & showed the manager her money, then proceeded to state again: "it must have gotten mixed in with my clothes that I put back in my bag."

Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall

Posted

These "clarifications" don't change or add anything material. She's not your daughter? OK. Perhaps you will be good enough to share your post and the multiple attorney responses with her parents. There is matter here that could and should matter to them. You are in error when you persist in believing that good grades have anything to do with good character. They do not. Good grades have to do with ability, motivation, education, and opportunities, but not good character, honesty or integrity. I assure you that all juvenile courts know that. Good grades are sometimes taken into account, especially in juvenile court, when they tend to show that the juvenile is using time productively and appropriately -- that the juvenile is not running round unsupervised getting into trouble. But these are not issues in a retail theft case. It's lovely that you are certain that you know this girl so well that you can be sure she did not do it. I hope you are right. But there is no assurance or persuasion to be found in the fact that she had the money to pay for the shirt on her. That is more typical than not in retail shoplift cases, and the belief that proves something reflects a simplistic idea that shoplifts are motivated by an inability to purchase the wanted item. That is almost never the whole story in shoplift cases, especially not juvenile shoplifts. After years of prosecution experience with several hundred shoplift trials, I can tell you categorically that almost every thief I ever prosecuted for retail shoplift had enough money for the purchase of the stolen item on their person at the time of the theft. But the point is not that your young person here is lying about this "mistake." The point is that whether she is or not, the story is so old, so shopworn, so over-used and so routinely told, that there is almost zero possibility it will be believed. That can be important info -- not for you, but for her.

Posted

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 informational purposes only. It is always recommended that you contact an attorney with any concerns as each individual case is unique.

Asker

Posted

Does MD have a Shopkeeper's Advantage law? Personally, I think it would have been better to contact the police or at least mall security. While this girl was terrified (what fifteen year old wouldn't be?) & perhaps police presence would have terrified her more, I think the manager got a little over zealous and went too far. The fact that when this girls mother and I called, she stated an untruth and said "I wasn't personally involved."I would have given her the benefit of the doubt except the girl was there with us and immediately recognized her voice. She also refused to give any contact names & information stating: "I cannot give out personal information." I said: "This isn't personal information, it's business." Her continued denial of involvement & refusal to provide any information causes me to believe she is aware of the fact that she went too far.

Bennett James Wills

Bennett James Wills

Posted

No matter how you consider the circumstances, calling the police would have just made it worse. She could have ended up with a criminal record. A 15 year-old is not going to admit to anyone she was trying to steal something, and let's be honest - no store manager is going to give a 15 year old "the benefit of the doubt." Yes, the manager can conduct a reasonable investigation to a suspected shoplifter. And whether you believe the manager "went too far" is subjective. A reasonable fact finder, like a judge at a criminal trial, could think differently. Maybe the manager actually did go too far - or maybe the 15 year old is exaggerating her story to mitigate the fact she was caught shoplifting. Bottom line, she's not in jail, and she's not been charged with a crime. That's about the best outcome after being caught.

Posted

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.