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Intentional Torts: False Imprisonment

15 January, 2016 - 09:31

Lester v. Albers Super Markets, Inc.

94 Ohio App. 313, 114 N.E.2d 529 (Ohio 1952)

Facts: The plaintiff, carrying a bag of rolls purchased at another store, entered the defendant’s grocery store to buy some canned fruit. Seeing her bus outside, she stepped out of line and put the can on the counter. The store manager intercepted her and repeatedly demanded that she submit the bag to be searched. Finally she acquiesced; he looked inside and said she could go. She testified that several people witnessed the scene, which lasted about fifteen minutes, and that she was humiliated. The jury awarded her $800. She also testified that no one laid a hand on her or made a move to restrain her from leaving by any one of numerous exits.

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As we view the record, it raises the fundamental question of what is imprisonment. Before any need for a determination of illegality arises there must be proof of imprisonment. In 35 Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.), False Imprisonment, § II, pages 512–13, it is said: “Submission to the mere verbal direction of another, unaccompanied by force or by threats of any character, cannot constitute a false imprisonment, and there is no false imprisonment where an employer interviewing an employee declines to terminate the interview if no force or threat of force is used and false imprisonment may not be predicated on a person’s unfounded belief that he was restrained.”

Many cases are cited in support of the text.

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In Fenn v. Kroger Grocery & Baking Co., Mo. Sup., 209 S.W. 885, 887, the court said:

A case was not made out for false arrest. The plaintiff said she was intercepted as she started to leave the store; that Mr. Krause stood where she could not pass him in going out. She does not say that he made any attempt to intercept her. She says he escorted her back to the desk, that he asked her to let him see the change.

…She does not say that she went unwillingly…Evidence is wholly lacking to show that she was detained by force or threats. It was probably a disagreeable experience, a humiliating one to her, but she came out victorious and was allowed to go when she desired with the assurance of Mr. Krause that it was all right. The demurrer to the evidence on both counts was properly sustained.

The result of the cases is epitomized in 22 Am.Jur. 368, as follows:

A customer or patron who apparently has not paid for what he has received may be detained for a reasonable time to investigate the circumstances, but upon payment of the demand, he has the unqualified right to leave the premises without restraint, so far as the proprietor is concerned, and it is false imprisonment for a private individual to detain one for an unreasonable time, or under unreasonable circumstances, for the purpose of investigating a dispute over the payment of a bill alleged to be owed by the person detained for cash services.

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For these reasons, the judgment is reversed and final judgment entered for the defendant-appellant.


  1. The court begins by saying what false imprisonment is not. What is the legal definition of false imprisonment?
  2. What kinds of detention are permissible for a store to use in accosting those that may have been shoplifting?
  3. Jody broke up with Jeremy and refused to talk to him. Jeremy saw Jody get into her car near the business school and parked right behind her so she could not move. He then stood next to the driver’s window for fifteen minutes, begging Jody to talk to him. She kept saying, “No, let me leave!” Has Jeremy committed the tort of false imprisonment?