Citation. Hardy v. La Belle’s Distrib. Co., 661 P.2d 35, 203 Mont. 263, 1983)
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Brief Fact Summary.
An employee of Defendant informed Defendant that Plaintiff, a recently hired temporary employee at Defendant’s jewelry department, had stolen a watch. The store manager invited Plaintiff into his office, claiming she was being given a tour as a new employee. The manager closed the door behind him, and Plaintiff was ultimately questioned in the room for 20 to 45 minutes by the manager, at least one uniformed police officer, and others.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
While actions or words may give rise to a claim of false imprisonment, the actions or words must rise to the level of unlawful restraint against one’s will to be actionable.
Plaintiff had been recently hired as a temporary employee in Defendant’s jewelry department. Another of Defendant’s employees told store management that she had seen Plaintiff steal a watch from the store. Under the guise of giving her a tour of the store, the store manager lured Plaintiff into his office and closed the door behind him. The manager, at least one uniformed police officer, and others questioned Plaintiff for 20 to 45 minutes, during which time Plaintiff did not ask or attempt to leave and was not told she could not leave. The manager was eventually satisfied that Plaintiff had not committed the theft. Plaintiff later brought suit for false imprisonment, and admitted that she would have entered the manager’s office even had she not been lured there. The jury found for Defendant.
Was the jury wrong to find that Plaintiff had not been restrained against her will?
No. The jury’s verdict was upheld. The Court found that Plaintiff was not unlawfully restrained against her will because she would have entered the office voluntarily, never asked or attempted to leave, and was never told she could not leave.
The Court acknowledges that words can suffice to create the kind of unlawful restraint as could give rise to false imprisonment. However, the facts of the underlying case did not demonstrate that any such words were used. Rather, it appears Plaintiff may have held a subjective belief that she was not allowed to leave the manager’s office. Creating circumstances that may engender such a belief does not rise to the level of false imprisonment without further words or actions confirming such a belief.