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Bonkowski v. Arlan’s Department Store

Citation. 12 Mich. App. 86, 162 N.W.2d 347
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Brief Fact Summary.

A police officer stationed in the defendant’s store stopped and questioned plaintiff, who he suspected of larceny. Plaintiff sued the defendant store for damages resulting from the interrogation, alleging false arrest and slander.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A merchant has a privilege to detain for reasonable investigation a person in the immediate vicinity who is believed to have unlawfully taken a chattel.


Ms. Bonkowski went shopping one evening at Arlan’s Department Store with her husband. She left the store after making several purchases. Earl Reinhardt, a private policeman on duty that evening at the store suspected Ms. Bonkowski of having committed larceny. Reinhardt requested Ms. Bonkowski reveal the contents of her purse so he could search for the allegedly stolen costume jewelry. Ms. Bonkowski emptied the contents of her purse and showed Reinhardt the sales receipts for the items she purchased. Satisfied that Ms. Bonkowski did not commit larceny, Reinhardt permitted her to leave. Ms. Bonkowski sued the store for false arrest and slander.


Whether the defendant store was privileged to detain a shopper in the immediate vicinity who was believed to have committed larceny?


Yes. The Michigan court adopts a privilege for merchants to detain for investigation persons suspected of shopkeeping. The case is reversed and remanded for a new trial. On remand, the jury will be tasked with determining whether Reinhardt reasonably believed Ms. Bonkowski shoplifted and whether the investigation was reasonable.


The court adopts the Restatement (Second) of Torts‘ approach to recovery of property. The Restatement recognizes a privilege allowing merchants to detain for reasonable investigation any person whom is believed to have unlawfully taken a chattel. If this privilege did not exist, then merchants would either have to arrest the suspect at the risk of liability for false arrest, or they would have to allow the suspect to leave the premises. The Commissioners of the Restatement (Second) of Torts left the question open as to whether this privilege may extend to suspected persons who have left the premises but remain in the immediate vicinity of the store. The court holds that this privilege extends to the premises within the immediate vicinity of the store.

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