Blue v. Harrah's North Kansas City

Decision Date07 June 2005
Docket NumberNo. WD 63975.,No. WD 63948.,WD 63948.,WD 63975.
Citation170 S.W.3d 466
PartiesTracey BLUE, Appellant-Respondent, v. HARRAH'S NORTH KANSAS CITY, LLC, Respondent-Appellant, B.L. Sweiger, Respondent.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

George S. Miller, Maryville, MO, for appellant-respondent.

Joseph M. Fridkin, Kansas City, MO, for respondent-appellant.

Theodore A. Bruce, Jefferson City, MO, for respondent.

Before THOMAS H. NEWTON, P.J., HAROLD L. LOWENSTEIN and PATRICIA A. BRECKENRIDGE, JJ.

THOMAS H. NEWTON, Judge.

Mr. Tracey Blue was arrested at Harrah's Casino for the theft of some roulette gaming chips. Mr. Blue brought suit for false arrest against Harrah's and against Officer B.L. Sweiger, the Missouri Gaming Commission (MCG) agent who was on duty that night and actually arrested him. Officer Sweiger was granted summary judgment and dismissed from the case. Harrah's was found liable for the false arrest. The jury did not award Mr. Blue any actual damages but did award him punitive damages. The trial court granted Harrah's a judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the punitive damages award. Both Mr. Blue and Harrah's appealed.

Mr. Blue did present a submissible case for Harrah's liability, so the trial court correctly denied Harrah's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the question of liability. The trial court correctly denied Mr. Blue's request for a new trial based on the inconsistent verdict because he waived that issue. The trial court correctly denied Mr. Blue's motion to amend the judgment to award him nominal damages because he did not request the nominal damages before the jury was dismissed. The trial court correctly granted Harrah's motion notwithstanding the verdict on the punitive damages award because Mr. Blue failed to show by clear and convincing evidence that Harrah's had an evil motive or acted with reckless indifference to his rights. The trial court incorrectly granted Officer Sweiger's motion for summary judgment because it is a jury question whether he had probable cause and, although he is entitled to official immunity, it is a jury question whether he lost that immunity by acting in bad faith or with malice. Affirmed in part, reversed and remanded in part.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Mr. Blue, an African-American, arrived at Harrah's at about 3:00 a.m. on April 1, 2003, with a friend from work, Mr. Darren Houcks. Mr. Blue was wearing a solid navy pullover sweatshirt and gold pants. He got a gaming card once he arrived at Harrah's. He initially played slots. Then he and Mr. Houcks played at the craps tables. Mr. Houcks left at some point and went back to playing slots. Mr. Blue played craps for a little while longer and then went to where Mr. Houcks was playing slots and played slots until he ran out of money. He then sat in front of the escalators, which were near both the craps and roulette tables, waiting for Mr. Houcks to finish playing and cash out.

During that time, another patron reported that her chips, worth $85-$90, were stolen when she temporarily left them at the roulette table. Harrah's surveillance personnel reviewed the tapes and after confirming that the theft did occur, Mr. Eric Jarvis, the senior surveillance officer that morning, contacted the MGC agent on duty, Officer B.L. Sweiger.1 Officer Sweiger went to the surveillance department and reviewed the videotape of the theft. The tape was in black and white and did not show the thief's face, but Officer Sweiger and Mr. Jarvis could tell that he was an African-American male and that his clothing had a contrasting collar.

While they were reviewing the videotape in another room, Ms. Karen Crabtree, another surveillance department employee, was scanning the casino looking for anyone who might fit the minimal description of the thief. She noticed Mr. Blue sitting by the escalators and called Officer Sweiger and Mr. Jarvis into the main room to see if he looked like the thief. While they were looking at him, Mr. Blue got up and headed toward the exit with Mr. Houcks. Officer Sweiger decided that Mr. Blue looked enough like the suspect that he wanted to talk to him before he left. So he asked the surveillance department to call the security department and have them stop Mr. Blue before he left. Mr. Jarvis did not think that Mr. Blue looked like the thief because his collar did not match the one shown in the videotape. Mr. Jarvis testified that he told Officer Sweiger of his doubts, but Officer Sweiger did not recall that statement. Officer Sweiger admitted that he did not have sufficient information to arrest Mr. Blue when he left the surveillance office.

Mr. Blue and Mr. Houcks were stopped at the turnstile exit, as instructed by Officer Sweiger. They were told that the gaming officer wanted to speak with them. While there, Ms. Kathy Martin, the security supervisor on duty, talked with Mr. Blue and asked for his identification. After several minutes, Officer Sweiger arrived. He tried to talk with Mr. Blue but Mr. Houcks kept interrupting, so he took Mr. Blue off to the side to talk with him and no one else heard their exchange. Officer Sweiger told Mr. Blue that he was seen stealing chips at the roulette table. Mr. Blue replied that he never played roulette, did not know how to play roulette, and was at the craps table and slot machines all night. Officer Sweiger believed that Mr. Blue was being evasive when he claimed that he did not know how to play roulette. Mr. Blue also asked to see the tapes but was refused. At some point in the conversation, Officer Sweiger decided that he would get no further in questioning and he arrested Mr. Blue. He used a pair of handcuffs provided by a Harrah's employee. He then walked Mr. Blue through the casino to the MGC office. On the way he stopped near the roulette table and Ms. Martin asked the dealer whether Mr. Blue was the thief; the dealer said that he was. Once in the office, Officer Sweiger removed the handcuffs, issued Mr. Blue a citation, and Mr. Blue was released. Ms. Martin told him that he was banned from the casino until this was resolved.

During the day the tapes were reviewed more thoroughly and Mr. Blue was seen at the craps table during the time of the theft. The surveillance department determined that someone else had stolen the chips and the thief was seen leaving before the theft was reported. Officer Sweiger sent Mr. Blue a letter informing him of the mistake and letting him know that the summons had been dismissed.

Mr. Blue brought a claim for false arrest against Harrah's and Officer Sweiger. There was no dispute that he was falsely arrested; the dispute was over who was liable for that false arrest. He asserted that Officer Sweiger was acting as an employee or agent of Harrah's and that Harrah's and Officer Sweiger were acting in concert when Mr. Blue was falsely arrested. Officer Sweiger moved for summary judgment, claiming that he had probable cause to arrest Mr. Blue and that he was entitled to official immunity for the arrest. The trial court granted Officer Sweiger's motion for summary judgment. A trial was had on Mr. Blue's claim against Harrah's. During trial, Harrah's moved for a directed verdict claiming that Mr. Blue failed to show an agency relationship between Harrah's and Officer Sweiger and that Harrah's engaged in any independent acts that would give rise to liability. The jury found in favor of Mr. Blue but did not award him any actual damages. It awarded him $250,000 in punitive damages.

After the jury was dismissed, Mr. Blue moved the court to amend the judgment by entering nominal damages to support the punitive damages award or, in the alternative, to grant him a new trial because the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. Harrah's filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on both the liability finding and the punitive damages award. The trial court granted Harrah's motion on the punitive damages award, but denied all other motions by both parties. Mr. Blue and Harrah's appeal.

Mr. Blue brings three points on appeal. He first claims that the trial court erred in not amending the judgment to include nominal damages. He next claims that the trial court erred in not granting him a new trial as an alternative to amending the judgment. And he finally claims that the trial court erred in granting Officer Sweiger's motion for summary judgment. Harrah's brings one point on cross-appeal, claiming that the trial court erred in denying its motion for directed verdict and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on liability.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

This case involves liability for a false arrest. There is no dispute that Mr. Blue was not the thief and should not have been arrested. The only dispute is who, if anyone, is liable for any harm from that false arrest and, if someone is liable, to what damages Mr. Blue is entitled. A plaintiff has a cause of action for false arrest if the plaintiff is confined, without legal justification. Rankin v. Venator Group Retail, Inc., 93 S.W.3d 814, 819 (Mo.App. E.D.2002). So there are only two elements: restraint of the plaintiff against his will, and the unlawfulness of that restraint. Bramon v. U-Haul, Inc., 945 S.W.2d 676, 680 (Mo.App. E.D.1997). And a defendant may be liable for false arrest even if he did not actually confine the plaintiff, if that defendant instigated, caused, or procured the arrest. Id. Merely providing information to the police is insufficient to find that the defendant caused the arrest. Id.

A. Harrah's Cross-Appeal — The Trial Court Correctly Denied the Motion for Directed Verdict and for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict on Liability.

We address Harrah's cross-appeal first because if we had found in Harrah's favor, we would not need to...

To continue reading

Request your trial
99 cases
  • T.K. v. Cleveland
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Missouri
    • July 10, 2020
    ...of discretion—the officer must decide what course should be pursued based on the circumstances at hand." Blue v. Harrah's N. Kansas City, LLC, 170 S.W.3d 466, 479 (Mo. Ct. App. 2005). The same exercise of reason and discretion is required by the decision of whether to perform a traffic stop......
  • Burbridge v. City of St. Louis, 4:17-CV-02482-SRC
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • December 20, 2019
    ...of discretion—the officer must decide what course should be pursued based on the circumstances at hand." Blue v. Harrah's N. Kansas City, LLC , 170 S.W.3d 466, 479 (Mo. Ct. App. 2005). Accordingly, the Defendant officers have official immunity for their participation in the arrests of the B......
  • Green v. State
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • August 17, 2010
    ...performed. Id. Official immunity does not apply to discretionary acts done in bad faith or with malice. Blue v. Harrah's North Kansas City, LLC, 170 S.W.3d 466, 479 (Mo.Ct.App.2005). Both bad faith and malice generally require an actual intent to cause injury. Id.A defendant acts with malic......
  • Jones v. Slay
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • November 18, 2014
    ...whether official immunity applies is a question of fact which must be considered by the jury. See Blue v. Harrah's North Kansas City, LLC, 170 S.W.3d 466, 479–80 (Mo.Ct.App.2005) (summary judgment inappropriate where facts created a genuine dispute about whether officer acted in bad faith o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT