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McCann v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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McCann v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
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    Brief Fact Summary. In a false imprisonment case, Debra McCann (Plaintiff) contended that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.’s (Defendant) employees stopped the McCann’s as they were leaving the store, claiming that Plaintiff’s children had been previously caught shoplifting, and could not re-enter the store. The employees detained Plaintiffs until a security officer determined that the children were not the children who had been caught previously.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. False imprisonment occurs when a person confines another intentionally without lawful privilege and against his consent within a limited area for any appreciable time, however short.

    Facts. This case involves a claim for false imprisonment. In December, 1996, Ms. McCann and two of her children were shopping at the Maine Wal-Mart store. After approximately an hour and a half, the McCann’s went to a register and paid for their purchases. As the McCann’s were leaving the store, two Wal-Mart employees, stepped out in front of the McCanns’ shopping cart, blocking their path to the exit. The employees told Plaintiff that the children were not allowed in the store because they had been caught stealing on a prior occasion. Defendant’s employees had said they were calling the police, but actually called a store security officer to identify the earlier shoplifter. Eventually, the security officer, Rhonda Bickmore (Bickmore), arrived at the store and informed the employees that the McCann’s were not the family whose son had been caught shoplifting. The employees acknowledged their mistake to the McCann’s, and they left the store.

    Issue. Did the conduct of Defendant’s employees constitute the tort of false imprisonment?

    Held. The court affirmed the lower court’s decision, noting that Plaintiffs adequately proved the elements of false imprisonment. The court ruled, however, that Defendant’s refusal to allow the 12-year old boy, to use the restroom was not sufficiently outrageous to warrant the imposing of punitive damages.

    Discussion. In false imprisonment, the defendant unlawfully acts to intentionally cause confinement or restraint of the victim within a bounded area. Accidental confinement is not included and must be addressed under negligence or strict liability. [See Restatement Section:Section: 35-45A.] The transferred intent doctrine is applicable.

    * The victim must be confined in such a manner as to preclude his or her escape. The bounded area can be, however, a large area, even an entire city. The confinement may be accomplished by (1) physical barriers; (2) force or threat of immediate force against the victim, the victim’s family or others in her immediate presence, or the victim’s property; (3) omission where the defendant has a legal duty to act; or (4) improper assertion of legal authority.


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