On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County.
Pressler, Dreier and Bilder. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bilder, J.A.D.
This is an appeal by Jamesway Department Store and one of its loss prevention managers, Harry Forbes, from an adverse judgment in an action brought by an employee for false imprisonment. Following a six-day jury trial, plaintiff was given a judgment for compensatory damages of $10,300 and punitive damage of $100,000. In their brief on appeal, defendants make the following contentions:
Point I. The facts giving rise to the instant case and the standards to be applied with respect to the defendants' conduct fall within the parameters of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11.
Point II. Defendants had the common law right to detain the plaintiff because they acted with probable cause.
Point III. The trial court improperly permitted the plaintiff to introduce proof as to conduct subsequent to September 3, 1982.
Point IV. Punitive damages are not recoverable by the plaintiff as a matter of law.
Point V. The jury verdict was against the weight of the evidence.
Seventeen-year old Michelle De Angelis, the plaintiff, was employed by Jamesway as a cashier. Harry Forbes was the Loss Prevention District Manager whose responsibilities encompassed the Pompton Plains store in which plaintiff worked. His duties included, among other things, investigations of employee dishonesty.
On September 3, 1982, Forbes went to the Pompton Plains store to investigate employee defalcations. In the course of this, he interviewed Terry Sherrer, co-employee of plaintiff. Ms. Sherrer admitted dishonesty and implicated a number of other employees, including plaintiff. Her accusation, as reflected in a written statement given that day, charged plaintiff with participation in the theft of money from the service desk cash register.
I have been stealing from Jamesway # 62 in several different methods. The 1st I remember is that I stole money from the Service desk. The 1st time I did this was when I was working the desk with another employee Michelle De Angelis. We got to talking about how easy it would be to steal money from the company by just making up a persons name and write a refund up and steal the money. I did this and signed the slip. I rang it up for $20.00 and I put the other $10.00 down on the Service desk for Michelle. We had a conversation about how we would split the money before I did the refund. This is the only time I did this with Michelle, because this was the last time I worked with her.
On the basis of this charge, plaintiff was brought to an office in the rear of the store and subjected to an intensive interrogation for several hours in the evening. According to plaintiff she was told she was wanted in the rear of the store. The assistant manager, Marshall, accompanied her to the office of the manager, Lloyd. Forbes was seated behind a desk. Marshall departed, leaving plaintiff alone with Forbes.
From the evidence the jurors could have found that there then followed a four-hour period during which plaintiff was lectured about theft, shouted at, frightened, charged with theft and forced to admit to a crime she did not commit. In ruling on the motion for judgment n.o.v., ...