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by Ron Davis
A call to the local police is apparently the best response when theft is suspected at a shopping center tenant store.
As the owners of a Missouri shopping center found, such a call prevents their getting involved—and perhaps sued in case of false arrest.
That shopping center, South County Center Mall, in St. Louis, was the recent scene of a suspected theft at one of its tenant stores—a Lady Foot Locker sports merchandise retailer. The store manager there had spotted a customer who the manager believed was leaving the premises with a jogging suit hidden under her regular clothes. Rather than summon the center’s security personnel who were on duty at the time, the manager followed the center’s previously issued directive and phoned local police.
When the police later arrived, they located the suspect in the mall area, and she voluntarily agreed to a search of her person and of her automobile in the parking lot. But the search did not locate the missing jogging suit. They then released her, but warned her not to return to the Lady Foot Locker store.
Despite the warning, however, she returned to the store and angrily confronted the manager. But the police quickly intervened, charged the customer with disturbing the peace, and issued her a summons to appear in court.
The customer sued Lady Foot Locker and the police, claiming false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.
At trial, a Missouri court ruled that neither the Lady Foot Locker manager nor the police committed illegal or unjustified actions in their handling of the incident. Explained the judge, “The customer was not restrained against her will and she voluntarily consented to the search of her bags in the mall and of her vehicle in the parking lot. There were no issues of material fact as to whether she was unlawfully detained, and there was no false arrest as a matter of law.”
That decision was upheld on appeal by a Missouri appellate court. (Rankin v. Venator Group Retail, Inc., 93 S.W.3d 814 [Mo.App. E.D. 2002])
Decision: February 2003
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