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Archer v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

July 19, 2019

DARRELL ARCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES EAST, LP, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          CHARLENE EDWARDS HONEYWELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT

         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendants' Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff's Fourth Amended Complaint (Doc. 241; Doc. 242) and Plaintiff's responses thereto (Doc. 245; Doc. 248). The Court, having considered the parties' submissions and being fully advised in the premises, will grant in part and deny in part the Motions to Dismiss.

         I. Background [1]

         Plaintiff Darrell Archer (“Plaintiff”), a California citizen, visited Defendant Wal-Mart Stores East, LP (“Walmart”) in Polk County, Florida on November 26, 2015 to purchase a television set. Doc. 237 at ¶¶ 5, 14-15. Plaintiff paid for the television by credit card at an automated checkout line with the assistance of a Walmart employee, Diamond Hernandez (“Hernandez”). Id. at ¶¶ 14-15, 50. Following the purchase, Plaintiff placed the television in a Walmart shopping cart and proceeded to the Walmart exit immediately adjacent to the automated checkout line. Id. at ¶ 16.

         When Plaintiff approached the exit, a different Walmart employee, Defendant Kanara Harris (“Harris”), stopped Plaintiff and asked to see his receipt. Id. at ¶ 17. Harris positioned himself in front of Plaintiff's shopping cart, preventing Plaintiff from leaving. Id.

         Plaintiff declined to provide his receipt and explained that he had just purchased the television a few feet away. Id. at ¶ 19. Harris continued to block Plaintiff's path to the exit. Id. at ¶ 24. Harris summoned fellow Walmart employee, Defendant Charles Caraway (“Caraway”), and a police officer, Defendant Brad Webster (“Webster”), and advised them that Plaintiff had refused to produce his receipt. Id. at ¶¶ 26-27.

         Webster, who was dressed in police uniform, accused Plaintiff of shoplifting. Id. at ¶ 29. Webster advised Plaintiff that he was not free to leave the store, and Plaintiff believed that he was in fact not free to leave the store, either with or without his television. Id. at ¶ 30. Caraway continued to detain Plaintiff with the assistance of Webster. Id. at ¶ 31. Caraway accused Plaintiff of failing to pay for the television and attempting to shoplift. Id.

         Caraway summoned his assistant manager, Defendant Kristine Wood (“Wood”), who arrived at the scene. Id. at ¶ 32. Another police officer also dressed in police uniform, Defendant Ken Nichols (“Nichols”), arrived at about the same time as Wood. Id. at ¶ 33. Wood and Nichols were advised that Plaintiff had been asked to produce a receipt but refused. Id. at ¶ 34. They were also advised of Plaintiff's statement that he had just purchased the television at the checkout area immediately adjacent. Id. at ¶ 35. Wood, Caraway, Webster, and Nichols all continued to detain Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 36.

         A third police officer, Defendant Dan Gaskin (“Gaskin”), also dressed in police uniform, arrived at the scene and was advised of the situation. Id. at ¶ 37. Gaskin assisted with detaining Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 38. In addition, Gaskin took and removed Plaintiff's television from his possession and control. Id. Plaintiff's television was not returned to him despite his repeated demands during his detention. Id. at ¶ 39. Plaintiff attempted to leave the store with his property on several occasions, but was prevented from doing so by Wood, Caraway, Webster, Nichols, and Gaskin. Id. at ¶ 41.

         At the time of Plaintiff's detention, Walmart had a store policy which provided that a person who “refuses to show his receipt of purchase . . . to nevertheless be permitted to leave the store with their merchandise.” Id. at ¶ 22. Wood, Caraway, Harris, Webster, Nichols, and Gaskin were all fully aware of the policy and “each knew that refusal to produce a receipt was neither a justification for the detention of the customer nor seizure of his property.” Id. at ¶¶ 31, 36, 68. The Walmart employees, Harris, Wood, and Caraway, never attempted to prevent the police officers from seizing Plaintiff's property by “pointing out or reminding them [that] the store policy was to allow customers to leave with their property even if they refused to produce a receipt.” Id. at ¶ 71.

         During Plaintiff's detention, Caraway, Nichols, and Gaskin repeatedly called Plaintiff a “thief, ” accused him of shoplifting, and threated to arrest him if he didn't show his receipt for the television. Id. at ¶ 42. Neither Wood, Caraway, Webster, Nichols, or Gaskin made any effort to conduct an independent investigation to determine if Plaintiff had paid for the television, even though Plaintiff told them that he had made the purchase at the checkout area nearby. Id. at ¶ 43.

         Hernandez, the employee who helped Plaintiff with his purchase, saw Plaintiff being detained at the exit. Id. at ¶ 51. Hernandez contacted her supervisor to advise that Plaintiff had in fact purchased the television. Id. at ¶ 52. Hernandez's supervisor, however, failed to take any action or advise Wood, Caraway, Nichols, Gaskin, or Webster of this information. Id. at ¶ 53. Instead, the supervisor advised Hernandez to wait until after her shift to advise asset protection that Plaintiff had purchased the television. Id.

         Plaintiff's detention continued. Id. at ¶ 54. During Plaintiff's detention, Wood and Caraway did not actually believe that Plaintiff stole the television “but nevertheless continued to unlawfully detain him and prevent him from leaving the store with his property.” Id. at ¶ 66. Eventually, Plaintiff was “trespassed” from the premises without the television. Id. at ¶ 55. Nichols advised Plaintiff that he had to leave the premises and that he was forbidden from taking the television with him. Id. at ¶ 56. Plaintiff insisted that he be allowed to take the television, but was repeatedly advised that he would be arrested if he did not leave the premises immediately without the television. Id. at ¶ 57.

         To avoid arrest, Plaintiff reluctantly agreed to leave the premises without his television. Id. at ¶ 58. Plaintiff was escorted off the premises by the police officers. Id. Plaintiff's detention and escort off the property occurred in public in the presence of dozens of customers. Id. at ¶ 61. The Walmart customers entering and exiting the store heard the accusations against Plaintiff and observed his detention. Id. at ¶ 61. This subjected Plaintiff to humiliation, embarrassment, and emotional distress. Id. Throughout the incident, Plaintiff was never threatening, belligerent, obstructive, or disturbing of the public peace and quiet. Id. at ¶ 63.

         Subsequent investigation, after Plaintiff was forced to leave, revealed that Plaintiff had purchased the television at the checkout aisle near the exit. Id. at ¶ 60. During Plaintiff's detention, Harris, Caraway, Wood, and Edward Camp (“Camp”) were acting within the scope of their employment with Walmart. Id. at ¶¶ 11, 62. Walmart was responsible for the actions of its employees and of the police officers working at Walmart providing extra-duty police services for the store. Id. at ¶¶ 69-70.

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a pleading must include a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Labels, conclusions and formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action are not sufficient. Id. (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Furthermore, mere naked assertions are not sufficient. Id. A complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, which, if accepted as true, would “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the ...


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