984 F.2d 972 (8th Cir. 1993), 92-1912, Sanders v. Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Docket Nº:92-1912.
Citation:984 F.2d 972
Party Name:Ronny J. SANDERS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SEARS, ROEBUCK & COMPANY, a New York Corporation; Daniel J. Geiger, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:February 02, 1993
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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984 F.2d 972 (8th Cir. 1993)

Ronny J. SANDERS, Plaintiff-Appellant,


SEARS, ROEBUCK & COMPANY, a New York Corporation; Daniel J.

Geiger, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 92-1912.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 2, 1993

Submitted Dec. 15, 1992.

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc

Denied March 23, 1993.

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Robert J. LaBine, Grand Forks, ND, argued, for plaintiff-appellant.

Paul G. Woutat, Grand Forks, ND, argued, for defendants-appellees.

Before McMILLIAN, Circuit Judge, LAY, Senior Circuit Judge, and LOKEN, Circuit Judge.

LAY, Senior Circuit Judge.

Ronny J. Sanders appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1983) claims as well as other pendent state claims against Sears, Roebuck & Company and Daniel J. Geiger. 1 Sanders had alleged that Geiger, a security guard employed by Sears, had maliciously and wrongfully detained him at a Sears Roebuck department store on suspicion of shoplifting computer disks valued at $37.00. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, holding that collateral estoppel precluded Sanders' relitigation of probable cause of arrest because the issue had been adjudicated at Sanders' state criminal trial. The district court also dismissed the state pendent claims of malicious prosecution, negligence and vicarious liability. On appeal, Sanders urges 1) that the issue involved in his § 1983 suit was not litigated in his state criminal trial, and 2) that he did not have a fair opportunity to litigate the issue of lack of probable cause for arrest at the state trial.


On April 19, 1988, Ronny J. Sanders, a Captain in the United States Air Force, entered the Sears retail store in Grand Forks, North Dakota with an empty Daytons shopping bag--a custom he alleges that he acquired during his military duty in England. Sanders walked over to the computer software display and selected three boxes of disks. He carried them in his hand and passed various Sears clerks and paying stations. Sanders entered the catalog merchandise customer bin area and upon reaching the secluded rear, looked from left to right several times and placed the three disks in his shopping bag. He then walked rapidly through the automotive department to a set of doors leading to the automobile service bays on the north end of the store. As Sanders approached the doors, he was stopped by Officer Geiger,

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who asked to see the contents of the bag. Geiger also asked for a receipt. Sanders replied that he was just then proceeding to the cash register to purchase the disks.

Sanders voluntarily accompanied Geiger to the manager's office. He revealed to Geiger that he had neither sufficient funds nor a checkbook in his possession to pay for the computer disks. Sanders also had no Sears credit card in his possession, although it was later determined that Sanders did have a Sears charge account. Geiger recovered the merchandise and turned Sanders over to the custody of the Grand Forks police.

Sanders was charged and tried in a state criminal trial for theft of property. The jury returned a not guilty verdict. Sanders subsequently filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit.


Section 1983

Sanders' § 1983 suit against Sears and Geiger alleged false arrest and malicious prosecution in violation of his constitutional due process rights. The district court dismissed the § 1983 suit holding that collateral estoppel precluded relitigation of the issue of probable cause for arrest because it had been adjudicated at Sanders' state criminal trial. We affirm the dismissals, but do so on different grounds.


    Sanders argues that the district court erred in holding that the issue of whether Sears' security guard, Daniel Geiger, had probable cause to arrest Sanders was determined at his state trial, thus collaterally estopping Sanders from relitigation of this issue in the present § 1983 suit.

    The district court determined that Sanders was collaterally estopped under North Dakota Law. 2 During the course of the state criminal trial, Sanders moved for dismissal of the criminal case for "lack of probable cause." (Tr. at 9-10). The federal district court interpreted this to mean that Sanders moved for dismissal for lack of probable cause for arrest. We find the district court erred. Sanders moved for dismissal for lack of probable cause based upon North Dakota Century Code 51-21-02 which is part of the North Dakota Retail Theft Act allowing merchants to detain suspected shoplifters. Section 51-21-01 creates a presumption as to when a prima facie case has been established. 3

    A fair reading of the state record shows that the state court understood the motion in the same way that Sanders now contends. The state judge said:

    It merely sets out a presumption. If a person has done the things set out in the first part of the statute, then there's a prima facie case. I do not feel it is necessarily applicable to the facts of the case.

    The state trial judge refused to dismiss the case, stating that the presumption was rebuttable if it applied. We think it clear that the state court ruled on a motion for...

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