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Texas Skaggs, Inc. v. Graves

    Brief Fact Summary. Sharon Graves (Plaintiff) brought suit against Texas Skaggs, Inc. (Defendant), her former employer, after they prosecuted her on two checks she had already paid.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a defendant determines to prosecute another individual, without probable cause, and that person can prove malice, an action for malicious prosecution may be upheld.

    Facts. Plaintiff worked for Defendant, a grocery, until she was fired. Thereafter, she continued to buy groceries at the store. After she and her husband separated, Plaintiff was unaware he had cleaned out her checking account, and she wrote two checks, totaling $34.70, to the store, which were returned insufficient. As soon as she realized the mistake, she made a deal to pay the checks, “as soon as she could get the money,” and she did this in a reasonable time. After the checks were paid, the store manager filed an incident report and had Plaintiff arrested under the state’s hot check law. Plaintiff then filed suit, based on misuse of legal process. At trial, the jury found that Defendant did not have probable cause in prosecuting Plaintiff, and awarded her damages. Defendant appealed.

    Issue. Whether a plaintiff has a viable cause of action based on malicious prosecution, when that plaintiff has written and acknowledged checks for which there were insufficient funds?

    Held. Affirmed. In affirming the judgment of the lower court, the Texas Court of Civil Appeals looked at the elements for a cause of action for malicious prosecution:
    * a criminal prosecution must be instituted by the defendant against the plaintiff. In this case, Defendant instituted prosecution on bad checks, against Plaintiff;
    * the proceedings must be terminated in favor of the plaintiff. Defendant’s prosecution of Plaintiff was terminated, because she had paid the checks, and they could not produce them;
    * there should be an absence of probable cause for the proceeding. Defendant did not have probable cause in prosecuting Plaintiff. She was well-known to the employees of the store, the checks she wrote were small, and she immediately made restitution for them;
    * Malice. Defendant’s manager was determined to prosecute Plaintiff, regardless of the fact that she had made payment on the checks; and
    * Damages. Plaintiff sustained damage to her reputation as she was arrested and paraded through the store as a thief, in front of friends and former coworkers.

    Discussion. All of the above-enumerated damages must be taken into consideration when considering whether a cause of action for malicious prosecution will stand.


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