The Second Department upheld a jury verdict (reducing it however) in favor of plaintiff who was detained in defendant Home Depot’s store by a Home Depot employee based upon the false allegation plaintiff had assaulted a woman. Plaintiff was detained until the police arrived and then arrested. Plaintiff was a court attorney and was seeking a judicial nomination. Plaintiff was awarded $1.8 million, which the Second Department reduced to $500,000:
The jury, after a trial on the issue of liability, returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendants on the causes of action alleging battery and false imprisonment. …
… False arrest and false imprisonment are two different names for the same common-law tort … . The elements of the tort are intent to confine the plaintiff, the plaintiff was conscious of the confinement, the plaintiff did not consent to the confinement, and the confinement was not otherwise privileged … . “Probable cause is a complete defense to an action alleging . . . false imprisonment” … .
The fact that the police had probable cause to detain the plaintiff based on what Marrugo [the Home Depot employee] told them does not mean that Marrugo had probable cause to detain the plaintiff. Although a civilian complainant generally cannot be found liable for false imprisonment merely for providing information to the police which turns out to be wrong … , a private person can be liable for false imprisonment for actively participating in the arrest such as “‘importuning the authorities to act'” … . The record indicates that the plaintiff would not have been arrested but for Marrugo’s detention of him, and importuning the police to arrest him. Marrugo instigated the arrest, making the police his agents in confining the plaintiff … . Marrugo did so based upon false information that the plaintiff assaulted the female customer with a shopping cart. Wieder v Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 2022 NY Slip Op 04830, Second Dept 8-3-22
Practice Point: Here a Home Depot employee detained plaintiff until the police arrived based on the false allegation he had assaulted a woman. Plaintiff sued Home Depot and the verdict in plaintiff’s favor was upheld.