United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
Ellis, III United States District Judge.
Mona Lisa Berry, an African-American, was shopping at a
Target store in Falls Church, Virginia when, after placing
items into her shopping cart and moving toward the checkout
line, a store employee accosted her, accused her of
shoplifting, using a racial slur in doing so, and required
her to go to a back room in the store where she was
handcuffed and kept waiting for 40 minutes until the police
arrived. On the basis of Target's accusations, plaintiff
was prosecuted for shoplifting, but a jury acquitted her.
These facts, plaintiff contends, establish her claims for
violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Va. Code §
8.01-42.1, as well as claims for false imprisonment and
malicious prosecution under Virginia common law.
Target Corporation and Jonas Garcia filed a motion to dismiss
plaintiffs complaint for failure to state a claim under Rule
12(b)(6), Fed.R.Civ.P. The matter was fully briefed and
argued orally, following which a bench ruling issued denying
defendants' motion. This memorandum opinion elucidates
the reasons for that ruling.
Mona Lisa Berry, an African-American, resides in Arlington,
Virginia. Defendant Target Corporation is incorporated in
Minnesota and operates the Skyline Target store in Falls
Church, Virginia. Defendant Jonas Garcia worked at the
Skyline Target as a "Senior Asset Protection
Specialist" during the time relevant to this action.
August 29, 2014, plaintiff was shopping at the Skyline Target
store. Shortly after entering the store, Garcia began
following plaintiff. Garcia also told other store employees
to track her movements with the store's surveillance
system. Plaintiff ignored Garcia and continued shopping,
putting a plastic storage container and a rug into her
shopping cart. Before checking out, she saw a merchandise
display that contained bags of potato chips located inside
the main entrance/exit doors. Plaintiff moved her shopping
cart up to the display and selected a bag of chips for
purchase. At that point, she had been in the store for 90
plaintiff proceeded to the checkout counter, Garcia ran up to
her, accosted her, and accused her of shoplifting. As he was
doing so, Garcia used a racial slur to inform someone over
his cell phone or radio that "I got me another
n***er." Garcia then ushered plaintiff to what Target
calls a "loss prevention interrogation room, "
where she was handcuffed and required to wait for 40 minutes
until the police arrived. During this time, Garcia went
through the items in her cart and searched her purse. He
discovered no hidden store items, but did find that plaintiff
had several hundred dollars in cash, as well as credit cards,
in her wallet, which was more than enough to pay for the
merchandise she had selected and placed in her shopping cart.
While plaintiff was in the room, Garcia told her that
"y'all come in here and steal." When plaintiff
asked who he was referring to when he said "y'all,
" Garcia did not respond.
did not allow plaintiff to purchase the items she had
selected and placed in her shopping cart. Instead, they
ordered her to remain in handcuffs for about 40 minutes until
a police officer arrived. As a result of Target's
accusations, the officer arrested plaintiff and transported
her to jail. Target then pressed formal charges against
plaintiff for grand larceny. A jury acquitted her of this
charge. Then, in July 2016, plaintiff filed this action,
alleging four claims: (1) a violation of 42 U.S.C. §
1981; (2) a violation of Va. Code 8.01-42.1; (3) false
imprisonment; and (4) malicious prosecution. Defendants moved
to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ.
P., for failure to state a claim.
standard for the factual sufficiency of a complaint is
well-established. Under the familiar
Iqbal/Twomblystandard, the "well-pled allegations
of the complaint" must be accepted as true and the
"facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom"
must be construed "in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff." Harbourt v. PPE Casino Resorts Md,
LLC, 820 F.3d 655, 658 (4th Cir. 2016). The complaint
must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face" such that the court can draw "the reasonable
inference" that defendants committed the alleged
violations. McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dep 't of Transp.,
State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th Cir. 2015)
(quotation marks omitted). Plaintiffs complaint meets this
standard with respect to all four claims.
1981(a) of Title 42 of the United States Code provides that
"[a]ll persons ... shall have the same right... to make
and enforce contracts ... as is enjoyed by white
persons." The statute defines "make and enforce
contracts" to include "the making, performance,
modification, and termination of contracts, and the enjoyment
of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the
contractual relationship." 42 U.S.C. § 1981(b).
Plaintiff contends that defendants violated that statute
because they prevented her from buying the items in her
shopping cart based on racial animus.
circuit, to state "a prima facie case of discrimination
in a § 1981 cause of action relating to the purchase of
goods and services, " plaintiff must allege facts to the
effect that: (1) she is a member of a protected class, (2)
she "sought to enter into a contractual relationship
with the defendant[s], " (3) she "met the
defendant[s'] ordinary requirements to pay for and to
receive goods or services ordinarily provided by the
defendant[s] to other similarly situated customers, "
and (4) she was "denied the opportunity to contract for
goods or services that was otherwise afforded to white
customers." Williams v. Staples, Inc., 372 F.3d
662, 667 (4th Cir. 2004).
complaint alleges facts that meet each of these elements. As
an African-American, plaintiff is a member of a protected
class and obviously satisfies the first element. Id.
at 668. The second element - that plaintiff "sought to
enter into a contractual relationship" with Target - is
also satisfied because she was trying to buy items at the
store. See Id. Indeed, plaintiff had selected
several items to purchase, placed these items in her shopping
cart, and was on the way to the checkout line when Garcia
accosted her, accused her of shoplifting, and required her to
go to a back room in the store. The third element - that
plaintiff met the "ordinary requirements" to
purchase her selected items - is also met because she clearly
had the means to pay for them. See Id. The fourth
element - that plaintiff was denied the opportunity to
purchase her ...