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If never arrested, do I have to pay Nordstrom in accordance with a California state Penal code for petty theft?

San Diego, CA |

I shoplifted $20 worth of merchandise at a Nordstrom about 6 months ago and was never arrested. The loss prevention girl told me since I was being so cooperative and I gave the merchandise back so willingly, the most they would do is say is I can't step into a Nordstrom for 2 years or I could be arrested for trespassing. Months later I received letters saying I owe them $475 in accordance with some California sate Penal codes and if I don't pay they would take me to court. I was under the impression penal code only applies if I were arrested which I wasn't. So I ignored the letters. Now I have a Nordstrom collection agency which is odd because I didn't know civil demands could be collected that way. What are my rights? I feel like I still shouldn't have to pay...

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Attorney answers 4


This is one of the most frequently asked questions on AVVO. The answer is that you do not have to pay. There is a statute which permits them to file suit in CA and collect up to $500 in penalties if they are successful. Their problem is that it will cost them more than $500 to go to court and get the judgment. They never will file the suit because they will lose money. They will eventually give up. Continue ignoring the collection agency. Make sure they do not try to put this on your credit file as they are not entitled to do so unless and until they get a judgment.

The response given is not intended to create, nor does it create an ongoing duty to respond to questions. The response does not form an attorney-client relationship, nor is it intended to be anything other than the educated opinion of the author. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. The response given is based upon the limited facts provided by the person asking the question. To the extent additional or different facts exist, the response might possibly change. Attorney is licensed to practice law only in the State of California. Responses are based solely on California law unless stated otherwise.


You should not feel compelled to pay the civil demand, but stop stealing from Nordstrom. I like that store and don't want to pay any more than I need to for supporting the Loss Prevention's salary.

Law Offices of David Shapiro 3555 4th Avenue San Diego, CA 92103 (619) 295-3555


Mr. Fink is correct. There are also "legal guides" on AVVO about shoplifting and the civil demand letter.

What concerns me is that a collection department or agency is contacting you. I do hope that this is not reported to a credit reporting agency. Perhaps my concern is unfounded, but you might want to get your credit reports sometime soon to see if this civil demand is reflected as a "debt" to Nordstrom's which you have failed to pay.


What you received is called a civil demand letter from a law firm. I never advise that people pay these. A civil demand letter does not create an obligation for you to pay. The merchandise in these situations has almost always been recovered and the amounts sought are laughably out of proportion to its value, as it is in your case. These letters are little more than extortion. Let me be clear: it is impermissible for anyone (Nordstrom's or their lawyers, here) to threaten you with criminal prosecution if you refuse to pay their demand. Nordstrom, through its representatives, may file a lawsuit against you for the $475.00 but that is extremely rare as it would cost them more in lawyer fees than they would see back.

You do not have an obligation to pay anything unless you were brought before a judge, either pled guilty/no contest, or were convicted after a jury trial and the judge (the person in the black robe) told you you had to pay a restitution amount. If Nordstrom's has sued you and been awarded a judgment against you, that would likewise create an obligation but again, these suits are rare and it is common for the letters to threaten that they will if you don't pay up.