Patron Sues over Detainment while Validity of Currency Investigated

A state court of appeals held that restaurant employees were not liable for false imprisonment because they reasonably believed a patron was attempting to pass a counterfeit bill.

Steve Burditt and his family ordered a meal through the drive-through window of a restaurant. When Burditt attempted to pay for the meal with a 20-dollar bill, a restaurant employee asked him to drive forward and wait. The employee suspected the bill was counterfeit and contacted the local police department.

When an officer arrived, he investigated the situation and determined the bill was not counterfeit. Burditt was never put into custody or physically detained at the scene. Burditt sued the restaurant owners, claiming false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The business filed a motion for summary judgment, which the traffic court granted. Burditt appealed the decision.

In order to prevail on his false imprisonment claim, Burditt was required to show that a restaurant employee detained him without consent and without legal justification. The court focused on the fact that the employee honestly believed the 20-dollar bill was counterfeit and determined the employee was justified in asking Burditt to wait. The state court of appeals found the restaurant was not liable for false imprisonment and upheld the trial court's decision.

Premises owners have the authority to detain patrons in a reasonable manner for a reasonable amount of time if the owner has a true belief that the patron is attempting to steal from the premises.

Source: Security Law Newsletter, 02/01/2007

Copyright © 2007 by Strafford Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Storage, reproduction or transmission by any means is prohibited except pursuant to a valid license agreement.