Man Files Defamation Lawsuit After Being Accused Of Shoplifting By Home Depot

A man who purchased a lawn tractor at the Edwardsville, IL Home Depot went back inside to buy some more stuff while employees loaded his tractor onto his truck.

After his items were placed in a Home Depot bag, he says he was stopped by the manager and accused of shoplifting the items.

From the Madison County Record:

“The manager alleged that the plaintiff stole the items he purchased for $19.12,” the complaint states.

Marshall alleges the Edwardsville Police were called to the scene to investigate the allegations he shoplifted and throughout the investigation he was able to produce the receipt for the items that were alleged to be stolen.

He claims that the false allegations of theft to the Edwardsville Police caused him to suffer mental anguish, emotional distress and a loss of earning.

Represented by Brian Polinske of Edwardsville, Marshall is seeking damages in excess of $50,000, plus costs of the suit.

Why on earth would anyone buy a tractor that costs $3,200 and then shoplift $20 worth of stuff? Even if he did shoplift $20 worth of stuff—he just bought a $3,200 tractor. Who cares? If we owned a store we’d have a policy that anyone who pays over $3k for a glorified lawnmower gets to shoplift at least $30 worth of stuff before we call the cops.

Home Depot customer claims he was falsely accused of shoplifting [Madison County Record]
(Photo:kilgore)

Comments

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  1. hypnotik_jello says:

    A loss of earning? Huh?

  2. protest says:

    why the hell didn’t the police just laugh at the manager for accusing someone of stealing when they have a reciept??

  3. joeblevins says:

    Umm, I think $50k is a little much. There are no details in the story that say so, but if the guy showed his receipt and they still pushed it, then I figure he should get a little something. But if this is just a case of a guy trying to start a fight when a manager asked for his reciept, then he gets nothing. Did he actually get arrested? Or did the cops just show up and nothing really happen? He gets nothing if he just didn’t show a reciept and the cops said, nothing to see here. Just don’t shop there again.

  4. FREAKHEAD says:

    not enough information to make a fair opinion.

    On the surface it seems pretty silly to accuse him of theft unless they think he bought the items and came back with the receipt and put the same items into a bag to say he purchased them. Again, seems really strange. There probably is more to this story.

  5. ElizabethD says:

    Yes, $50K is a lot, but maybe it will be incentive for Home Depot to train its employees better and/or increase hourly wages to attract staff with actual brain cells.

  6. ThomFabian says:

    “Even if he did shoplift $20 worth of stuff-he just bought a $3,200 tractor. Who cares?”

    The store cares. And they should. Buying a big ticket item isn’t a license to steal.

    That said, the police should’ve never been called. Ask to see the receipt, and the whole thing is cleared up.

  7. 82300sd says:

    Can’t you sue for libel and other things if they detain you and accuse you of shoplifting and they turn out to be wrong? Otherwise they can accuse everyone of shoplifting and say “opps we’re sorry we were wrong”

  8. Buran says:

    @joeblevins: The story says that “throughout the investigation he was able to produce the receipt for the items that were alleged to be stolen”. He had proof he didn’t steal, and they continued to accuse. I’d say Home Depot should have to pay punitive damages for what it did.

    Personally I would have just returned the tractor on the spot and walked out. Seems to me like they should be charged with unlawful detention too.

  9. IrisMR says:

    you’re right, details must be missing. But it still strikes me as Home Depot just being Home Depot. They’re always that weird.

  10. llcooljabe says:

    is it just me, or does it seem that we’re missing a piece of the story?

  11. Steel_Pelican says:

    Extortion. HD will no doubt give this guy a settlement, and tighten up their loss prevention policies to make sure store managers do absolutely nothing about shoplifting.

    And they’ll pass the savings on to the customer!

  12. howie_in_az says:

    I’d be returning that $3200 lawnmower in addition to the $19.12 worth of other items.

  13. Sam2k says:

    @FREAKHEAD: That should be easy enough to track. When an item is rung up the serial number should be recorded as leaving inventory. So they should be able to pull up his receipt and see if the items in the bag are the ones that he actually purchased.

  14. ThomFabian says:

    Reminds me of my last trip to Home Depot. I buy about 50 bucks worth of stuff for a project and head to the car only to realize that I hadn’t paid for a 5 dollar package of wall anchors. It was my mistake as they were in the front part of the shopping cart.

    I walked back in to the store to pay for them and the lady behind the register looked at me strangely for minute. I explained I hadn’t paid for the items and she had to call the manager over to decide if she could just ring them up or if she need to call security for me walking out without paying for them the first time. I laughed, paid for them and walked out.

  15. bobblack says:

    $50k for mental anguish because someone called you a shoplifter?

    He’s either very greedy or the most spineless person on the planet if that really upset him so.

    Excessive lawsuit, anyone?

  16. ianmac47 says:

    No, $50,000 is not a little much. Lawsuits are the only way for the individual to check the power of major corporations. If large retailers are slapped with huge penalties from accusing a handful of innocent victims, this will make false accusations more costly than losses from shoplifters, thus reducing false accusations made by large retailers.

  17. @llcooljabe: We don’t even have half the story. Loss of earning? Is he saying this affected his job? Did the investigation actually go on for a long time or is this guy crazy?

  18. Uriel says:

    Good for you Milford, hit those dirty home depot hobos where it hurts.

  19. DeeJayQueue says:

    @joeblevins: It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle. The amount is so high so that the store can’t pay it out of their budget, it has to come from corporate which will make someone take notice there.

    We shouldn’t have to walk around thinking someone is watching us at all times. We shouldn’t have to act like someone is suspecting us of a crime. The issue got escalated here because HD escalated the issue. It was a simple case of
    “excuse me, do you have a receipt for that?”
    “Oh sure, here you go”

    that instead went

    “Stop Thief!”
    “Are you serious, I’ve got a bag, and i’m 3 feet from the register.”
    “Thief! Someone call the cops!”
    “Really? Wow you’re a douche bag. I have a receipt you know, plus there’s that big tractor they’re loading into my truck outside…”
    “You just wait till the cops get here and we’ll see about all this”
    “Okay, you know what, since you have to get the cops involved in this, and waste my time and their time when it’s obvious that I paid for this stuff and you can’t prove otherwise, since I’ve got the bag and receipt and you probably have video tape of the transaction happening, I’m going to sue for defamation, for as much as I can get away with. Kiss your bonus and maybe even your job goodbye.”

    I can’t say I would have behaved any differently. It used to be that a man’s word was his bond, and if you challenged it, it meant your ass. This is the pansy-assed 21st century litigious equivalent to that, but the instinct is still there. Nobody likes being called a liar, and people who do so falsely need to pay.

  20. mandarin says:

    Mental anguish sure is expensive these days…
    In my days, all I got for my mental anguish was a lollipop…

  21. ThomFabian says:

    @DeeJayQueue:
    While I agree with you, its interesting to note that much of the Consumerist gets up in arms about the “may I see your receipt” question ever being asked.

  22. homerjay says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: I agree. This has nothing to do with a number. He could have gone for a billion dollars or $500, but at a billion it would have been thrown out and at $500 nobody would be paying attention. He did the right thing if the store WAS as ridiculous as it seeems they were.

  23. DeeJayQueue says:

    @Sam2k: You can’t individually monitor inventory. There are millions of pieces of freight in any store at any given time. You can’t pay someone to put a unique sticker on each one that can be scanned and taken out of inventory. Even stores with new-ish register systems and nationwide linked searchable inventory have around a 2 hour delay between the time you buy it and the time it comes out of the system.

    About the best you can do is a spot count to see if the computer says you have 32 but you only have 31, and even then you can’t prove that it’s the person in question who’s responsible for the missing piece.

  24. hypnotik_jello says:

    He should have returned the tractor for spite.

  25. shades_of_blue says:

    @DeeJayQueue: If that’s exactly how it went down, then they should be sued for at least that. I’d aim for a much higher figure, for an incident like that, specially if my kids were with. Actually, if my kids were with, there’s a good chance that dick would catch a fist to the jaw.

  26. Landru says:

    $50,000 is right. How much money do you thing will make a dent with the attitudes of the Home Depot upper management? $100.00? $500? $5000?

    The point, I think, is to make a deterrent to HD so they don’t do it again. The people ultimately making decisions about this are executive management or members of the boards of directors, who make tons and tons of money. Not that they pay it themselves, but It should probably be more than $50,000 for them to even notice it.

  27. NoWin says:

    @DeeJayQueue: ” BY DEEJAYQUEUE AT 11:42 AM @joeblevins: It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle. “

    If it went down pretty much as it is written; I’d agree with the amount for principle sake.

    Gosh darn it businesses, treat us customers with a bit of respect, common decency, and common sense (‘though I admit the last one is reeeeealy hard to come by these days….)

  28. DeeJayQueue says:

    @ThomFabian: My point is that it’s not the onus of the consumer to prove that he isn’t a thief. It’s the responsibility of the retailer to have irrefutable proof before ever going to question someone in person. This situation obviously got out of hand quickly, I bet egos and attitudes were flared, and the result is what we’ve read in the news article.

    I don’t like the cameras and the security personnel, I don’t like LP looking over my shoulder at every turn, but if they’re going to be there, they should at least do a passable job discerning the real thieves from the people who paid for merchandise. It’s this exact situation that in every shit retail job I’ve ever had they always tell us never to approach or confront or engage a thief. Not only are they potentially dangerous but if you’re wrong then the store is liable for a defamation suit.

  29. jwarner132 says:

    I just want to point out that having a receipt for an item doesn’t mean you didn’t steal it. It’s quite simple to purchase an item, bring it to your car, and then (with your receipt) walk back into the store and pick up another copy of the item you just bought. If the serial number to the first item isn’t on the receipt, then the receipt would look like it was valid for the second item you picked up. If you decided to walk out of the store without paying for the second item, it is still stealing, even though you have a “receipt” for it.

    Not that I’m defending the manager’s actions, but perhaps this is why the Home Depot manager didn’t care that Mr. Marshall had a receipt for the items he was accused of stealing.

  30. @homerjay: I think you meant to reply to DeeJayQueue. My post was about how confused I am about the loss of earning claim.

  31. ptkdude says:

    I thought Home Depot employees got fired when they stopped (or tried to stop) a shoplifter. Why did they not fire the manager who stopped this guy?

  32. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    Both sides of this story are a bit ridiculous. There’s no reason why a person who HAS THE RECEIPT IN HIS HANDS should be detained for theft. None. Absolutely none. However I’m quite hesitant to automatically default to a lawsuit to “get corporate’s attention”, but I guess that’s more of a sad commentary on society than it is on this person in general.

    I’m just sick of people saying “let’s sue them”.

  33. homerjay says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Whatever, I’m drunk. :)

  34. marsneedsrabbits says:

    You ask: “Why on earth would anyone buy a tractor that costs $3,200 and then shoplift $20 worth of stuff?”
    I don’t know why, but years ago I worked for a department store and can assure you that it does happen. People sometimes seem to need to get something for nothing. Or something. I don’t know exactly, but we’d get customers who could afford to but anything in the store, and they would shoplift small, inconsequential items. They often seemed to be at a loss themselves as to the “why”.
    I am not *at all* saying that this happened in this case, but it does happen.
    It is not an excuse for managers or security to go nutty and accuse paying customers of theft, however. Sometimes management seems to be on a power trip. That may have been the case here.
    I wonder if the accused returned the tractor? I hope so.

  35. @ptkdude: Because the manager didn’t chase someone armed with a large, metal object after they left the store. He told the guy he couldn’t leave but didn’t touch him.

    They often seemed to be at a loss themselves as to the “why”.
    @marsneedsrabbits: Kleptomaniacs?
    I’m reminded of the episode of MTV’s Diary show that had Chris Rock: “Sometimes I just like to steal!”

  36. chartrule says:

    I would of imagined that the whole situation would be quite embarassing to be in

  37. Karmakin says:

    A lawsuit probably wouldn’t be needed if the manager in question was carted off to jail, along with the district manager, the regional manager and the CEO.

    But as it stands, the only form of justice is in the lawsuit. I don’t like it anymore than you do, but it’s better than nothing.

    Sue on!

  38. LionelEHutz says:

    If you think this is crazy I heard about a case in Chemung, County NY where a person was charged with petty larceny for — get this — not returning a video to a non-chain video store in Elmira. Don’t membership agreements cover this situation?

  39. ErinYay says:

    He should have just showed them the recie…

    Oh.

    Hm.

    Now what?

  40. Hoss says:

    I’m not sure why the purchase of a tracter is relevent to the story. But my theory is that this gentlement is a regular reader of The Consumerist. He made a purchase (or not), left the store and the alarm was set off. He kept walking until confronted. Of course he did not simply show the receipt, why do that. Police were called. Gentleman claims civil rights violations and loss of dignity. What’s the lesson here?

  41. liquisoft says:

    I’m not so sure he needs so much restitution. It seems a little excessive, to me, but then again I didn’t go through his little ordeal.

  42. Angiol says:

    IANAL, of course: I think that if the crime is one of ‘moral turpitude’ (i.e., behavior contrary to what is acceptable), you don’t need to show damages.

  43. Jean Naimard says:

    The case here is clearly of false arrest… Pleading slander is pretty stupid.

  44. joeblevins says:

    The report says ‘During the investigation’ the guy was able to produce a reciept. It is possible he didn’t provide one to the manager and waited until the cops showed up.

    We don’t know what happened. HD is evil, but we really don’t know what happened here.

  45. @Hossofcourse: There isn’t a lesson because your theory is just a guess.

  46. marsneedsrabbits says:

    @Hossofcourse said: “What’s the lesson here?”

    In the scenario you mention, the lesson would be to fix the darned alarm system. Or educate the employees to deactivate the thingy that sets off the alarm if the item has been paid for. The last time I was in Home Despot, the alarm was going off left & right & they were just waving people through & were totally disregarding it.

    In a larger sense, I don’t know the answer to the shoplifting issue. I agree that it is a problem, but publicly accusing people who are honest and making them feel (and look) like thieves is not the answer. Neither is threatening people who refuse to stand in line to show a receipt (except at places where you have previously agreed to do so). Neither is man-handling customers.

  47. anatak says:

    @howie_in_az:

    I wouldn’t. its all now evidence.

  48. Akamaru says:

    Although I don’t know the complete facts to this case, I do have to side with the victim on this one.

    It is absolutely ridiculous to be harassed after you leave a checkout stand over whether you’ve purchased items or not.

    I think $50,000 is perfectly justifiable for public humiliation and defamation of character. The public humiliation being the bigger issue with me.

    The only language these big companies speak is the all mighty dollar. Might as well get their attention by suing them for a material amount of money to effect change in behavior.

  49. Keter says:

    I’ll tell you what…it’s to the point that I won’t go into a big box store alone any more…I take a witness with me just in case. I quit doing business with Best Buy (bizarre security, concerns regarding BoB returns) and Office Depot (won’t accept my debit card because I won’t give Certegy info guaranteed to put me in line for their next round of identity theft).

  50. thebobfiles says:

    Thats kinda funny. I regularly buy 300+ worth of computer equipment off the internet on my Citicard. They never flag that kind of stuff. But I’ve had twice in the past year where they have flagged my transactions for 1)going to the grocery store 2)getting gas 3)buying fast food – in that exact order, each time.

  51. Brad2723 says:

    Frivolous lawsuit. No way is that worth $50k.

  52. cosby says:

    @howie_in_az:
    “I’d be returning that $3200 lawnmower in addition to the $19.12 worth of other items.”

    Yea me too.

    As others have mentioned a receipt does not mean the product was not stolen. The idea of buying something and then going back in and stealing a second set of items is not that uncommon. In the case of this a time stamp on the receipt and the stores security cameras can clear it up very fast.

    Not sure how this case really went down but it does seem pretty bad.

  53. Akamaru says:

    @cosby:

    But is it really JUST to drag random people through the mud just because you have a suspicion (no proof) that they might have stolen something?

    Or would you rather use hard facts like security cameras and other verifiable methods of proof before you risk a confrontation?

    I’d take the second option if I were running a business. It takes all of 10 seconds to have the guy in the backroom watching the cameras to point out that someone has committed a crime.

    Is $20 dollars is worth more than customer satisfaction and respect?

    As it is I’m turned off from shopping at Home Depot now.

  54. goller321 says:

    First off, for those of you saying he should just show the receipt to the manager, he has EVERY right not to do so, WITHOUT being detained for shoplifting. It is the burden of the store to prove the person shoplifted. That means seeing the person pick up items, and leave without paying for them- without ever loosing site of them. I worked 5 years loss prevention for a national retailer, this manager was COMPLETELY in the wrong.

    And for those that say that $50,000 is too much, this isn’t an isolated event. This happens fairly frequently throughout the country. Until it starts hitting the companies pocketbook, it will continue. One of the previous posters is right, the manager should have been arrested for illegal detention- but that never happens.

  55. goller321 says:

    @Brad2723: Frivolous???? How would you like to be stopped, accused and detained in front of an entire store? This event probably took hours to sort out, after this guy was intimidated and threatened by HD staff and then intimidated by the police. People accused of stealing rarely, if ever, get the benefit of the doubt, and are treated as if they were convicted before they are even charged. Add to that the follow up stuff he has to do, and the possibility that he will miss work to straighten this out…
    I’d imagine you’re of the mindset that the RIAA has every right to intimidate and bully innocent people into settlements… If you believe this, you have no business being on a pro-consumer website.

  56. Imafish says:

    THOMFABIAN, nearly the same thing happened to be at a local Meijer. I got to my truck after buying groceries only to discover that I had a bag of cat food in the lower deck of the cart I never paid for. After unloading my truck and going back in the store with the cart and cat food I too was treated like a criminal. God, I’m the one who noticed it and came back! I wasn’t detained and the police weren’t called, I was just annoyed at being accused something I was in the process of remedying.

  57. Imafish says:

    BRAD2723, apparently you have no idea what it means to file a frivolous lawsuit. A frivolous lawsuit is one filed without any basis in law or fact.

    Based on the article it is clear that the lawsuit has merit and is in no way frivolous. He was publicly and falsely accused of committing a criminal act. That’s prima facie proof of slander.

    You might not like the amount of damages being sought, I too think it’s excessive, but that’s a determination of the jury and no way relates to whether the underlying lawsuit is frivolous.

  58. TPK says:

    Fortunately, I’ve never been in this situation, but I fear it is only a matter of time. Competence in general retail seems to be on the decline rather than on the rise.

    In the back of my mind, I carry around a warning that I would use in situations like this. It is for the manager involved, and it goes something like “the decisions you are about to make could end your career, I’d be very, very careful if I were you…”

    Not to be said in a threatening manner, but just a matter of fact, which indeed is the case. As consumers, we can only tolerate a certain level of incompetence, beyond that, it must be challenged with whatever means available.

  59. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    When I was about 10 or so and far less honest, one of my favorite tricks to shoplift was to stuff my backpack with snacks and junk. Then go buy a coke or candy bar, they never suspected you if you were buying something.

    As far as this guy I would say a lawsuit was the only way he can really get HD to give a damn. I helped the LP at BB when I was going to college. You had to follow the item the whole time it was being carried by the thief. If you lost it or didn’t see it being put in a bag, coat etc you couldn’t try to stop the person. I think the LP here was just trying to be billy badass and push people around.

  60. HalOfBorg says:

    If he asks for $50,000 that means he’ll SETTLE for less.

  61. DJ-Pandemic says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation:
    You obviously do not have a job that requires a security clearance.

  62. sibertater says:

    @ThomFabian:

    I think they were kidding about shoplifting. As a matter of fact, I’m sure of it. I would have returned the lawn tractor and told them to kiss my butt, then I would have done the EECB and let them know what happened. I wouldn’t waste my time with a lawsuit.

    I’d also send pictures of my freshly mown lawn (with a tractor bought at Sears).

  63. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Personally, although I’d like to see the guy win the case, I’d also like to see the money go to a local charity, because I don’t believe the guy necessarily endured $50,000 worth of suffering. I think the store, on the other hand, should get a good swift kick in the rear and a nice slap on the face, and perhaps the fine would give them incentive to train their staff to think twice before publicly accusing someone of a crime and calling the police.

    The part that bothers me, though, is that I too think there’s a key piece of the story that’s missing which might sway my opinion in either direction. The whole thing doesn’t sound right. Why *would* anyone buy a $3200 tractor and then steal $19.12 worth of fasteners…and if they were in a bag and the guy had a reciept, what would have led the manager to believe the guy stole anything in the first place?

  64. @DJ-Pandemic: Why, would a job with security clearance make me psychic?

  65. @thebobfiles: Did your comment just pop up in the wrong thread?!?

    Is this what happens to the disappearing comments? Are they just jumping to other threads?

  66. zekezarski says:

    @82300sd:
    Accusing a person of a crime is considered “lible per se” which means the “injured” party doesn’t have to prove any actual damages. The person making the statement is liable for punitive damages for making the false statement. Period. The reasoning is simple: you don’t get to run around casually accusing people of criminal conduct with no consequences.

  67. arcticJKL says:

    When I become dictator lawsuits like this will have a minimum of $100,000 in damages. The plaintiff will get whatever he actually lost, in this case an hourly rate for his time and perhaps a 10×10 sign in the story apologizing.

    The remained of the money will go to charity chosen by a jury. That way the store gets fined and the plaintiff gets nothing.

  68. Lordstrom says:

    The manager should be arrested for wasting police time. Screw the money, that’s real accountability right there. Though the guy should be awarded the amount of the tractor as well.

  69. Elle Rayne says:

    Mental note: Apparently I can enter and leave Home Depot once per day. Once I leave, I can’t go in again or I’ll be accused of stealing.

    This is really quite ridiculous on HD’s part, and humiliating for the plaintiff. I’d sue too, especially since my employer might not like having me around until I was cleared (thus resulting in “loss of earning”).

  70. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Time to bring Judge Wapner out of retirement.

  71. EvilConservative says:

    This lawsuit and others like it are the modern equivalent of pulling out his gloves and slapping the manager across both sides of his face to issue a challenge to a duel (or just punching out his lights) for impugning his integrity. You go, guy!

  72. mbrutsch says:

    Home Depot? The manager should be fired for stopping a shoplifter.

  73. CarCrash says:

    If it was me this is how it would have gone down

    Sir I believe you didn’t pay for that stuff

    Me> Are you kidding I just stepped out of the check out here is the receipt.

    Not good enough I have called the police.

    Me> Good and while the police are on there way could you get some one to unload the $3200 tractor I just purchaced I would like my money back NOW.

    No need sir I was mistaken sorry

    Me> No we’ll wait for the police and please unload the tractor. and after the police get here and all is cleared up I would like my money back for the products I am being accused of stealing. I assure you this missunderstanding will never happen again as I or any one I know will never spend another penny at your store.

    I would make sure every one around us could hear the conversation. should do enough damage without a lawsuit. See how many people put there stuff back and leave the store. word would get around.