Answer To MBE Question From October 31st
(D) is correct.
Issue: Whether the customer was falsely imprisoned and whether any defenses are available.
Rule: False imprisonment is any act or a failure to act, with the intent to confine, that results in actual confinement. A shopkeeper has a privilege to detain a suspected shoplifter and no action for false imprisonment will lie if there are reasonable grounds to believe that a theft has occurred. This is known as the shopkeeper’s privilege.
Analysis: Here, the clerk had no reasonable grounds to believe that the customer himself had shoplifted. Thus, the shopkeeper’s privilege is inapplicable. The elements of false imprisonment are met: the clerk intended to confine the customer and did actually confine the customer. Thus, the customer will prevail in an action for false imprisonment.
(D) is correct. There were no reasonable grounds to refuse to allow the customer to leave and thus the shopkeeper’s privilege did not apply.
(A) is incorrect because there must be reasonable grounds to suspect that the customer detained had actually shoplifted; that several shoplifting incidents occurred does not give a storeowner the right to detain any customer.
(B) is incorrect because the customer was still detained against his will for a period of time. This detention is enough for false imprisonment and it is irrelevant that the clerk eventually allowed him to leave.
(C) is incorrect because this is not an element of false imprisonment. The elements of false imprisonment are: (1) an act or omission by defendant; (2) with an intent to confine; (3) actual confinement; (4) causation; and (5) damages (it is not necessary to prove actual damages; nominal damages are permitted). The amount of time that the plaintiff is detained need not be “unreasonably long”. Any amount of time, if the plaintiff is confined, is sufficient.