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Shopkeeper immunity lets Nordstrom off the hook for false imprisonment

An Overlea man’s claim of false imprisonment by store security stemming from a case of mistaken identity has been denied by a Baltimore County jury.

Ricky Healey had sought $1.5 million for the December 2008 incident that occurred outside Nordstrom at Towson Town Center. Healy alleged he was forced to sit outside his car in front of the store for two hours and was taunted by security before he was allowed to leave.

Richard W. Scheiner, Nordstrom’s lawyer, said Healey was held for 20 minutes before he was permitted to go. Baltimore County Circuit Court jurors accepted the defense argument of shopkeeper immunity under a Maryland statute that allows for false imprisonment with legal justification, said Scheiner, chairman and principal with Semmes, Bowen & Semmes in Baltimore.

“The jury believed based on the circumstances that [Nordstrom’s] loss-prevention people had a reasonable-faith basis for believing that the plaintiff committed the theft,” he said.

Healey is the lead singer of a 25 ta Life, a New York-based hardcore punk-rock band, with a shaved head and “multiple visible tattoos on his arms, face, head and neck,” according to the complaint filed in January 2009. He was planning to do some Christmas shopping and pulled into a parking space in front of the department store when a uniformed security guard ordered him to stay in the vehicle, according to the complaint.

When Healey could not find out why he was being “held captive,” he “immediately feared that was being singled out for his appearance,” the lawsuit states. He was eventually allowed out of the van and surrounded by four guards, three in plainclothes, and was told surveillance cameras had captured him shoplifting, according to the complaint.

Healey maintained his innocence even as the security guards “continuously taunted” and laughed at him, the lawsuit states. The guards also accused him of being on drugs, the lawsuit states. Baltimore County police then arrived.

Officers found nothing suspicious in Healey’s van and then reviewed the surveillance video, according to the complaint.

The tape “clearly showed” Healey was not the shoplifter because the person had long hair, the lawsuit states. According to court documents, security saw the culprit pass Healey’s car as he or she fled Nordstrom. A department store manager said she would send Healey a formal apology but never did, the lawsuit states.

Healey suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression following the incident, and he stopped touring and performing, according to court documents.

“Since these events Plaintiff has been emotionally distraught and afraid to go out in public for fear of being discriminated against because of his appearance,” the lawsuit states.

Ray M. Shepard of Duane Morris LLP in Baltimore, Healey’s lawyer, did not return calls seeking comment.

The jury deliberated for four hours following a four-day trial before Judge H. Patrick Stringer Jr.

HEALEY V. NORDSTROM INC. ET AL.

Court:

Baltimore County Circuit Court

Case No.:

03C09000943

Proceeding:

Jury trial

Judge:

H. Patrick Stringer Jr.

Outcome:

Defendant

Dates:

Incident: Dec. 1, 2008

Suit filed: Jan. 27, 2009

Disposition: Jan. 14, 2011

Plaintiff’s Attorney:

Ray M. Shepard and Susan M. Euteneuer of Duane Morris LLP in Baltimore

Defense Attorney:

Richard W. Scheiner of Semmes, Bowen & Semmes in Baltimore

Count:

False imprisonment