False Arrest, False Imprisonment

Liability for False Arrest

A shoplifter can be detained by the store without suffering any liability Under Florida law. Florida Statutes section 812.015 provides that an owner or employee of a retail store who has probable cause to believe that a person committed retail theft and has probable cause to believe the property can be recovered, can detain a person in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable time for the purpose of recovering the stolen property. In the event the store detains a person, the law requires that the police be called immediately.

If the store complies with the requirements of this statute, it cannot be held civilly liable for false arrest, false imprisonment, or unlawful detention. This is called qualified immunity.

No Qualified Immunity from Civil Suit in the Absence of Probable Cause

If the store employee detains a person without any probable cause or if the police are given false information that directly or indirectly leads to the person’s arrest, this qualified immunity protection will not protect the store from civil liability for the wrongful arrest and detention.

In Pokorny v. First Federal Savings & Loan Association of Largo, 382 So.2d 678 (Fla. 1980) the Supreme Court of Florida laid the foundation for the liability for false imprisonment against a person or persons who provide false information to the police leading to arrest. The Court stated that a defendant can be held liable “in an action for false imprisonment” if the person who is sued “personally and actively participated in or proximately caused the false imprisonment and unlawful detention.

This liability was recently reaffirmed by the Florida Supreme Court in Valladares v. Bank of America, 197 So.2d 1 (Fla. 2016), which held that a plaintiff can sue a reporting party for negligently reporting a crime to the police where the conduct rises to the level of punitive conduct. In the plaintiff, Valladares, was an Hispanic male, wearing a loose-fitting athletic shirt, gym pants, a black Miami Heat hat and dark sunglasses, entered the Miami branch of the bank intending to cash a check. As soon as he entered, a bank teller spotted the man and believed he was a recent bank robber depicted in a photograph distributed by the bank that morning in an email though the teller did not have the photograph at the time to compare the photograph with the plaintiff’s appearance. When Valladares approached the teller’s window, the teller pushed the alarm button triggering the silent alarm. Though it became clear that Valladares who had valid identification merely came to cash a check made out to him, there was no attempt to cancel the alarm, and when the police swat team arrived, they forcibly arrested Valladares, believing at first he was the bank robber until they realized the mistake.

The Florida Supreme Court concluded in the Valladares case that the limited qualified immunity, which normally covers persons who give incorrect information to the police leading to an arrest, does not apply where the information is provided as a result of reckless conduct.

Proving a Claim for False Imprisonment

A false arrest victim claim must allege that the employee of the retail establishment caused or directly procured his arrest without any evidence of a criminal violation, and that the restraint was unreasonable, unwarranted under the circumstances, and against the person’s will. Any detention that is based on an improper motive, such as race, sex, nationality, ethnic background, religion, or age will not be protected by qualified immunity. A claim for arrest may also include a claim for false imprisonment and defamation.

The Importance of an Attorney Experienced in False Arrest Claims

An experienced attorney representing a victim of a false arrest will ensure that the claim is aggressively pursued to maximize compensation for damages incurred as a result of the false arrest. If you or someone you know is the subject of a false arrest, it is in your best interest to have representation by an experienced attorney.

Ken Swartz is experienced in representing individuals in Miami-Dade County and throughout Florida who are the victim of false arrests. Feel free to call the Swartz Law Firm to schedule a consultation with an attorney experienced in representing.

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