Summary of Koepnick v. Sears Roebuck & Co. (1988) Pg. 734, 762 P.2d 609
Parties: Appellant – Plaintiff – Koepnick
Appellee – Defendant – Sears
Court: Court of Appeals, Arizona (1988)
Facts: 1. On 12/6/82 at 6:15 pm, Koepnick, a suspect for shoplifting a wrench, was stopped in a mall parking lot by security and held for 15 minutes until police arrived.
2. When the police arrived, Koepnick got into an altercation with a police office which resulted in injury to Koepnick.
3. Koepnick was handcuffed by the police officer and held. Police began the investigation of Koepnick’s alleged shoplifting, which included searching Koepnick’s truck.
4. Upon the investigation and searching Koepnick’s truck, police determined that Koepnick did not steal any items from Sears.
5. The police cited Koepnick for disorderly conduct and released him. Koepnick was held in custody for approx. 45 minutes.
6. Koepnick sued Sears for trespass to chattel and other things.
Posture: Trial Court – Ruled for a direct verdict in favor of Sears. TC granted $100 in nominal damages to Koepnick. Both parties agreed that $100 was not nominal.
Issue: Are law enforcement officials exempt from a suspect’s accusations of denial to chattel (tort of trespass to chattel) when police are holding the suspect in custody and performing a search on the suspect’s chattels or property?
Judgment: Affirms TC’s granting of direct verdict in favor of Sears.
Holding: Sears didn’t intentionally deny Koepnick access to his truck. Koepnick was in police custody during the investigation, and it was the police that denied Koepnick access to his truck [Lasted no longer than 15 minutes]. This time was not long enough to constitute an estimate in loss (§218 (c)). There was no dispossession of the truck contemplated by §218, and police custody that restricts actor from possession of chattel is not protected by the tort of trespass to chattel. Punitive damages were awarded in error because there was no evidence the anybody caused damages to Koepnick’s truck
Relevant Rule: One who commits a trespass to a chattel is subject to liability to the possessor of the chattel if, but only if,
(a) he dispossesses the other of the chattel, or
(b) the chattel is impaired as to its condition, quality, or value, or
(c) the possessor is deprived of the use of the chattel for a substantial time, or
(d) bodily harm is caused to the possessor, or harm is caused to some person or thing in which the possessor has a legally protected interest.
(Restatement Second of Torts §218).
Thought: Are police usually protected from prosecution in the law of torts if they are acting in accordance with police procedure?