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Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. v. Paul

Citation. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. v. Paul, 256 Md. 643 (Md. 1970)

Brief Fact Summary.

Paul (Appellee) claimed that a food store’s employee falsely accused him of shoplifting, searched him, and detained him unlawfully. In his action against the food store for assault and battery, slander, and false imprisonment the shopper recovered compensatory and punitive damages. On appeal, the court affirmed the judgment.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The necessary elements of a case for false imprisonment are a deprivation of the liberty of another without his consent and without legal justification.


Appellee recovering from a recent heart attack, went shopping at a local grocery store in December, 1967. He left his cart at the end of one aisle, selected an item, and returned to the cart. An assistant manager of the store, believing that Appellee had shoplifted an item, detained and searched him. No stolen item was recovered. There was testimony that word of the incident spread throughout Appellee’s neighborhood and, Appellee having lived in the community approximately ten years, contended that the incident aggravated his heart condition, causing him physical pain and suffering, as well as personal humiliation. The jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages.


Should the court have applied the rule, expressed in Restatement (Second) of Torts, Sec. 120, that a shopkeeper who believes a shopper has committed a theft or other tortious act “is privileged, without arresting the other, to detain him on the premises for the time necessary for a reasonable investigation of the facts”?


The court affirmed the judgment below in favor of Appellee in his action against the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (Appellant) for assault and battery, slander, and false imprisonment. The court found that Appellant did not have probable cause to detain the Appellee because there was no evidence that the Appellee manifested control over the property with the intention to steal.


The court in Great Atlantic stated concisely: “Arrest or detention without legal authority, with or without probable cause, will render the arresting person liable for such damages ‘as the jury may consider actual compensation for the unlawful invasion of his [the plaintiff’s] rights and the injury to his person and feelings.’” Further, the court noted that “In a self-service store we think no probable cause. . . for detention exists until the suspected person actually attempts to leave without paying,” and that “the existence of probable cause is a question to be determined as a matter of law by the court upon a given state of facts, but when the facts are disputed the question may properly be submitted to the jury under adequate instructions.”

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