False imprisonment involves detaining a person without that person’s consent. It can take the extreme form of kidnapping or the less extreme for of detaining a shopper for suspected shoplifting without reasonable grounds.
A defense to false imprisonment would be consent of the detainee, or if a store owner had reasonable grounds to believe that the detainee was guilty of shoplifting (shopkeeper’s privilege). This privilege allows a store owner (or his employee) to detain a suspected shoplifter based on reasonable suspicion for a reasonable time. This privilege applies even if the store owner was wrong about the customer so long as the owner actions were based on reasonable suspicions and treated the customer in a reasonable manner. This privilege does not protect the owner from damages due to the use of unnecessary force in detaining the customer.
A customer was shopping at the handbag counter of the defendant’s store. She did not make any purchase and left the store. When she was a few feet away from the store, an employee of the store tapped her lightly on the shoulder to attract her attention and asked her if she had made any purchase. When she inquired why, the employee asked, “What about that bag in your hand?” The customer said that it belonged to her and she opened it to show by its contents that it was not a new bag. The employee gave the customer a “real dirty look” and went back into the store without saying a word. The customer then sued the store for false imprisonment. Was the store liable? No. Judgment would be for the store. There was no false imprisonment because there was no actual detaining of the customer. The circumstances did not show the use of force or threat of force that stopped the customer from proceeding on her way. Her action of stopping and showing the contents of her handbag was voluntary.