Employees accused Lopez of stealing money from the donut shop by sequestering her off to a backdoor room of the shop. Lopez said that the employees never threatened her or made her feel unsafe, nor did they make her feel like she couldn’t leave. Instead, in her false imprisonment, Lopez claimed that her wrongful termination greatly injured her reputation and caused her great mental distress.
Moral pressure alone does not lend to a claim of false imprisonment, but rather instead perhaps a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Lopez was employed as a clerk at Winchell’s donut shop for about three years. Winchell employees cornered Lopez in a room at the shop and locked the door. They then ambushed Lopez by accusing her of pocketing money from donut sales.
While Lopez acknowledged that the Winchell employees never threatened her or made her feel unsafe or that she could not leave, Lopez claimed that her false imprisonment by the Winchell employees and subsequent allegedly wrongful termination greatly injured her reputation and caused her great mental distress.
Winchell argued that it had reasonable grounds to believe that Lopez was stealing money from the store and that the investigation was also conducted in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time.
Is there a genuine issue of material fact remaining within Lopez’s claim of false imprisonment?
No, there is no genuine issue of material fact in Lopez’s claim of false imprisonment.
False imprisonment is the unlawful restraint of a person’s liberty or freedom to move as they would like. Imprisonment is the unlawful exercise or show of force by which a person is compelled to remain where she doesn’t want to stay or doesn’t want to go. Unlawful restraint can occur by words alone or by actual force.
Lopez relied principally on Marcus, a case in which the court held that it was reasonable for a plaintiff to believe a psychiatrist’s threat to commit the plaintiff to a state metal hospital while the plaintiff was already confined to a private hospital’s psychiatric ward.
The Court distinguished this case from Marcus, noting that Lopez was never threatened, put in fear of her safety, or prevented from exiting the room. There is no evidence that Lopez was restrained by a threat, express or implied, or constrained by physical force.