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Beckles v. Kohl's Department Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division

May 10, 2019

GERALDINE BECKLES, Plaintiff,
v.
KOHL'S DEPARTMENT STORES, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (DE 5). The issues raised have been fully briefed, and in this posture are ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         Plaintiff initiated this action on August 17, 2018, in Onslow County Superior Court. Plaintiff alleges defendant violated plaintiff's rights by unlawfully restraining her against her will after wrongfully accusing her of stealing merchandise. On January 21, 2019, defendant removed the case to this court. Two weeks later, defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss, arguing that plaintiff was not falsely imprisoned, she did not suffer intentional infliction of emotional distress, and punitive damages are not available. After resolving several issues regarding plaintiff's representation, the court granted plaintiff leave to respond to the motion to dismiss. Plaintiff timely responded, opposing defendant's motion to dismiss her false imprisonment claim.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         The facts in the complaint may be summarized as follows. On or about August 20, 2015, plaintiff was shopping at Kohl's in Jacksonville, North Carolina. (Compl. ¶¶ 3-4). During her trip, she admired certain perfume and items of jewelry, and was deciding whether to purchase those items. (Id. ¶ 5). She was stopped by Nathan Roberts (“Roberts”), defendant's employee. (Id. ¶ 4). Roberts publicly accused plaintiff of stealing the perfume and jewelry she had been looking at. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6). Plaintiff was taken by Roberts and moved about the business premises without her consent. (Id. ¶ 7). She was held against her will until law enforcement arrived to take plaintiff into custody. (Id.).

         The law enforcement officer called to the scene looked at a video recording of the incident and advised Roberts that he saw no stealing. (Id. ¶ 8). In addition, no property was found on plaintiff's person or recovered from her. (Id. ¶ 9). Nonetheless, Roberts insisted on charging plaintiff with the crime of larceny. (Id.). Plaintiff was incarcerated and forced to post a secured bond. (Id. ¶ 10). Defendant did not pursue the larceny charge against plaintiff, resulting in dismissal of the charge. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14).

         COURT'S DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         “To survive a motion to dismiss” under Rule 12(b)(6), ‘a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In evaluating whether a claim is stated, “[the] court accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, ” but does not consider “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, . . . bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement[, ] . . . unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         B. Analysis

         The court considers in turn plaintiff's claims of false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and punitive damages.

         1. False Imprisonment

         “A cause of action for false arrest or false imprisonment is based upon the deprivation of one's liberty without legal process.” Melton v. Rickman, 225 N.C. 700, 703 (1945). In North Carolina, the elements of a false imprisonment claim are (1) the illegal restraint of plaintiff by defendant, (2) by force or implied threat of force, (3) against plaintiff's will. See Fowler v. Valencourt, 334 N.C. 345, 348-49 (1993); West v. King's Dep't Store, Inc., 321 N.C. 698, 702 (1988); Black v. Clark's Greensboro, Inc., 263 N.C. 226, 228 (1964). “While actual force is not required, there must be an implied threat of force which compels a person to remain where he does not wish to remain or go where he does not wish to go.” West, 321 N.C. at 702 (citing Hales v. McCrory-McLellan Corp., 260 N.C. 568, 570 (1963)); Rogers v. T.J.X. Companies, Inc., 329 N.C. 226, 229 (1991). “The restraint ...


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