Lynch v. Toys "R" Us-Delaware, Inc., No. 4316.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtHearn
Decision Date27 November 2007
PartiesLuba LYNCH, Respondent/Appellant v. TOYS "R" US-DELAWARE, INC., Appellant/Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. 4316.
654 S.E.2d 541
375 S.C. 604
Luba LYNCH, Respondent/Appellant
v.
TOYS "R" US-DELAWARE, INC., Appellant/Respondent.
No. 4316.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Heard March 7, 2007.
Decided November 27, 2007.

[654 S.E.2d 546]

Joel Collins, Jr. and Christian Stegmaier, both of Columbia, for Appellant/Respondent.

Brooks Roberts Fudenberg, of Charleston and Geoffrey H. Waggoner, of Mt. Pleasant, for Respondent/Appellant.

HEARN, C.J.:


In this cross appeal, Toys "R" Us and Luba Lynch appeal various issues arising from a jury verdict in favor of Lynch. Toys "R" Us argues the circuit court erred by: (1) granting a directed verdict to Lynch rather than to Toys "R" Us on the false imprisonment cause of action; (2) denying its directed verdict/judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) motion on the causes of action for malicious prosecution, slander, and outrage; (3) denying its motion for a new trial absolute based on juror misconduct and the thirteenth juror doctrine; and (4) denying its motion for a new trial nisi remittitur. Lynch argues the circuit court erred in requiring her to elect a remedy. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

FACTS

On February 1, 2003, Lynch brought her mother, Tatiana Kotova, to a Babies "R" Us store in North Charleston. Kotova, a Russian National, was vacationing in the United States and this was her first visit to the baby superstore. While shopping, Lynch decided to go to the restroom and handed some baby cookies she had selected to Kotova, who put them in a black canvas tote bag.

A customer witnessed Kotova placing the items in the bag and reported the incident to a store employee. The employee went to the aisle and saw Kotova position a box into her bag, move around some other items, pull out what appeared to be a child's coat from the bag, and then push the coat down on top of the items. The employee called the store manager, Nrurka Galarraga, to inform her that a customer saw "an older lady" putting merchandise inside a bag.1

The manager contacted the North Charleston Police Department and then approached Kotova. Noticing a piece of black garment covering some of the merchandise in the tote bag, the manager asked Kotova if she could search it. Although Kotova did not speak English and could not understand the manager's request, she permitted a search of the bag, wherein the manager discovered the boxes of cookies.

Lynch returned from the ladies' restroom to find Kotova in this encounter with the manager. The manager asked Lynch about the cookies in the tote bag, and Lynch responded that she and Kotova were "going to buy [them]." The manager then provided Lynch and Kotova a shopping basket, in which Lynch placed the cookies, and gave them permission to continue shopping. Lynch and Kotova later arrived at the checkout counter and purchased the cookies plus three additional items, for a total of $10.10.

Meanwhile, officers from the North Charleston Police Department had entered the store and were talking to the manager. The officers approached Lynch and Kotova

654 S.E.2d 547

as they were leaving the store, requested that they open their bag, and asked the manager, "where can we talk?" The manager then escorted Lynch, Kotova, and the officers into a nearby office for investigation. In the office, the manager told the officers that Lynch and Kotova had persisted in their efforts to conceal merchandise, even after being provided with a shopping basket. At trial, however, the manager testified that after giving the women a shopping basket they merely continued shopping and did nothing illegal or suspicious. The manager also told the officers that she had confronted Lynch and Kotova twice for concealing items. At trial, however, she recounted only one confrontation.

After the officers spoke with the parties, they gave the manager three options: (1) to put Lynch and Kotova on trespass notice; (2) to sign an affidavit and pursue a warrant for shoplifting; or (3) to press charges and effectuate an immediate arrest. The manager elected the third option. The officers handcuffed Lynch and Kotova, escorted them through the busy store to the police car parked in front of the store, and transported them to jail.

When the women arrived at the jail, they were patted down, stripped of their belongings, and escorted to their cells. Lynch and Kotova spent ten hours in jail before being transported in handcuffs and shackles to a bond hearing. Two hours after the bond hearing, they were released. Lynch claimed she and Kotova could not sleep that night, and the next morning, Lynch went to church to seek comfort from her priest. Lynch also testified to experiencing nightmares since the arrest.

Lynch brought four causes of action against Toys "R" Us, alleging false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, slander, and outrage.2 The case was tried before a jury, and at the close of the evidence, both Lynch and Toys "R" Us moved for directed verdicts. The circuit court denied all of Toys "R" Us's motions, but granted Lynch's motion for a directed verdict on false imprisonment. The circuit court submitted the remaining causes of action to the jury. The jury returned verdicts in favor of Lynch on all causes of action, and awarded $50,000 in actual damages and $250,000 in punitive damages on each.

Toys "R" Us filed post-trial motions for JNOV, new trial pursuant to the thirteenth juror doctrine, new trial absolute, new trial nisi remittitur, and new trial based on juror misconduct. The circuit court denied these motions. However, the circuit court required Lynch to elect one of the four awards as the basis for her recovery. Lynch elected to recover based on her malicious prosecution cause of action, and thus received $50,000 in actual damages and $250,000 in punitive damages for a combined total of $300,000. These cross-appeals followed.

LAW/ANALYSIS

I. Toys "R" Us's Appeal

A. Directed Verdict on False Imprisonment

Toys "R" Us contends the circuit court erred by granting a directed verdict to Lynch on her false imprisonment cause of action and by denying Toys "R" Us's motion for a directed verdict on the same issue. We believe the issue of false imprisonment was for the jury to decide.

When ruling on a directed verdict motion, the circuit court is required to view the evidence and the inferences that reasonably can be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Sabb v. S.C. State Univ., 350 S.C. 416, 427, 567 S.E.2d 231, 236 (2002). The appellate court must follow the same standard. Adams v. G.J. Creel & Sons, Inc., 320 S.C. 274, 277, 465 S.E.2d 84, 85 (1995). "If more than one reasonable inference can be drawn or if the inferences to be drawn from the evidence are in doubt, the case should be submitted to the jury." Chaney v. Burgess, 246 S.C. 261, 266, 143 S.E.2d 521, 523 (1965).

The essence of the tort of false imprisonment consists of depriving a person of his or her liberty without lawful justification. Law v. S.C. Dep't of Corr., 368 S.C.

654 S.E.2d 548

424, 440, 629 S.E.2d 642, 651 (2006). To establish false imprisonment under South Carolina law, the plaintiff must show that the defendant restrained the plaintiff; the restraint was intentional; and the restraint was unlawful. Id.; see also Gist v. Berkeley County Sheriff's Dep't, 336 S.C. 611, 618, 521 S.E.2d 163, 167 (Ct.App.1999).

Toys "R" Us raises the Merchant's Defense in regard to its actions. Section 16-13-140 of the South Carolina Code (2003) protects merchants and their employees who restrain or delay customers suspected of shoplifting if the customer was delayed in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable time to permit such investigation, and reasonable cause existed to believe that the customer delayed had committed the crime of shoplifting. As set out in the statute, "reasonable cause" is synonymous with "probable cause." S.C.Code § 16-13-140 (2003). Probable cause is defined as a good faith belief that a person is guilty of a crime when this belief rests on such grounds as would induce an ordinarily prudent and cautious person, under the circumstances, to believe likewise. Jones v. City of Columbia, 301 S.C. 62, 65, 389 S.E.2d 662, 663 (1990). The determination of whether probable cause exists is ordinarily a jury question; however, it may be decided as a matter of law when the evidence yields but one conclusion. Law, 368 S.C. at 441, 629 S.E.2d at 651.

Lynch acknowledged at trial that the Merchant's Defense would apply to the initial confrontation between the manager and her. However, once the manager investigated the situation and resolved it by providing the women with a shopping basket and allowing them to continue to shop, Lynch argues the store had no right to again detain her once the police arrived. The circuit court judge agreed and found as a matter of law that Lynch was falsely imprisoned when she was restrained in the office.

After a thorough review of the record, we find there is evidence from which the jury could have determined Toys "R" Us continued to have probable cause to detain Lynch even after the initial confrontation. According to the manager's testimony, Lynch and her mother continued to act "very nervous" and went to different areas of the store "kind of hiding between fixtures." From this evidence, the jury could have found probable cause existed to restrain the women once the police arrived to determine whether additional merchandise had been concealed after the initial confrontation. On the other hand, it was also in the jury's province to find that Toys "R" Us no longer had probable cause once the women were allowed to continue shopping and ultimately paid for their merchandise. Accordingly, the determination of whether Lynch was falsely imprisoned should have been submitted to the jury.

B. Directed Verdict/JNOV Motions on the Remaining Causes of Action

Toys "R" Us next contends the circuit court erred by denying its directed verdict motions on the...

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8 practice notes
  • Alonso v. McAllister Towing of Charleston, Inc., C.A. No. 2:08-cv-2241-PMD.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • January 20, 2009
    ...permit recovery, and only if reasonable persons might differ should the question be one for the jury. Lynch v. Toys "R" Us-Delaware, Inc., 375 S.C. 604, 620-21, 654 S.E.2d 541, 550 (Ct. App.2007) (citing Strickland v. Madden, 323 S.C. 63, 68, 448 S.E.2d 581, 584 (Ct. Plaintiff's claim for i......
  • Cynthia Ellsworth & Ems Universal Id, LLC v. Carmichael (In re Carmichel), No. 18-50024 MPP
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    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Eastern District of Tennessee
    • August 14, 2018
    ...the plaintiff's emotional distress; and (4) that the plaintiff's emotional distress was severe."); Lynch v. Toys "R" US-Delaware, Inc., 654 S.E.2d 541, 550 (S.C. App. 2007) (noting that requirements under South Carolina law are "(1) the defendant intentionally or recklessly inflicted severe......
  • Gowdy v. Gibson, No. 4465.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 4, 2008
    ...would induce an ordinarily prudent and cautious person, under the circumstances, to believe likewise." Lynch v. Toys "R" Us — Del., Inc., 375 S.C. 604, 616-17, 654 S.E.2d 541, 548 (Ct.App.2007) (citing Jones v. City of Columbia, 301 S.C. 62, 65, 389 S.E.2d 662, 663 Section 44-53-520 of the ......
  • Gravelle v. Roberts, Opinion No. 2008-UP-283 (S.C. App. 6/2/2008), Opinion No. 2008-UP-283.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 2, 2008
    ...the statement irrespective of special harm or the existence of special harm caused by the publication." Lynch v. Toys "R" Us-Del., Inc., 375 S.C. 604, 619, 654 S.E.2d 541, 549 (Ct. App. 2007). Pursuant to the first element, the trial court must initially determine if the statement is reason......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • Alonso v. McAllister Towing of Charleston, Inc., C.A. No. 2:08-cv-2241-PMD.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • January 20, 2009
    ...permit recovery, and only if reasonable persons might differ should the question be one for the jury. Lynch v. Toys "R" Us-Delaware, Inc., 375 S.C. 604, 620-21, 654 S.E.2d 541, 550 (Ct. App.2007) (citing Strickland v. Madden, 323 S.C. 63, 68, 448 S.E.2d 581, 584 (Ct. Plaintiff's claim for i......
  • Cynthia Ellsworth & Ems Universal Id, LLC v. Carmichael (In re Carmichel), No. 18-50024 MPP
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Eastern District of Tennessee
    • August 14, 2018
    ...the plaintiff's emotional distress; and (4) that the plaintiff's emotional distress was severe."); Lynch v. Toys "R" US-Delaware, Inc., 654 S.E.2d 541, 550 (S.C. App. 2007) (noting that requirements under South Carolina law are "(1) the defendant intentionally or recklessly inflicted severe......
  • Gowdy v. Gibson, No. 4465.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 4, 2008
    ...would induce an ordinarily prudent and cautious person, under the circumstances, to believe likewise." Lynch v. Toys "R" Us — Del., Inc., 375 S.C. 604, 616-17, 654 S.E.2d 541, 548 (Ct.App.2007) (citing Jones v. City of Columbia, 301 S.C. 62, 65, 389 S.E.2d 662, 663 Section 44-53-520 of the ......
  • Gravelle v. Roberts, Opinion No. 2008-UP-283 (S.C. App. 6/2/2008), Opinion No. 2008-UP-283.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 2, 2008
    ...the statement irrespective of special harm or the existence of special harm caused by the publication." Lynch v. Toys "R" Us-Del., Inc., 375 S.C. 604, 619, 654 S.E.2d 541, 549 (Ct. App. 2007). Pursuant to the first element, the trial court must initially determine if the statement is reason......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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