False Imprisonment Alleged When Patient Is Detained with Suspicious Rx
Issue of the Case:A Louisiana appellate court wasasked whether a patient had a cause ofaction against a pharmacy when shewas detained for the police after presentinga suspicious prescription thatwas later determined to be valid.
Facts of the Case:
Jane Doe, complaining of pain associatedwith an abscessed tooth, calledher oral surgeon late on a Saturdayafternoon to obtain a prescription torelieve the pain. The physician calledthe defendant pharmacy and orderedDarvon Compound 65. After the pharmacisttook the order and filled theprescription, he decided to verify it.
The pharmacist attempted to reachthe oral surgeon twice with no success.Finally, he spoke with the physician'sanswering service and discovered thatthe physician was not on call thatweekend. The pharmacist was connectedto the oral surgeon's partner,who said it was unlikely that the otherdoctor had called in the order. Thepartner explained that their office hada policy that only the on-call doctorwould phone in prescriptions. All ofthis increased the pharmacist's suspicions,so he called the state police druginvestigation unit.
When Jane Doe arrived to pick upher prescription, she was told it wouldtake a few minutes and was asked towait. Doe waited a short time andchecked again. She was again told itwould take a few more minutes. Whilewaiting, Doe roamed freely around thestore. She did some shopping. Thepharmacist, or any store employee,did not attempt to physically detainher. Nor was she told that she couldnot leave the store.
When the police arrived, the pharmacistidentified Doe and explainedto them why he was suspicious of heractivities. The pharmacist had no furthercontact with the plaintiff. Thepolice conducted a brief investigationand placed Doe under arrest, handcuffedher, and transported her to jail,where she was booked. Later thatevening, a sheriff's deputy contactedthe prescriber, who verified the prescription.Doe was then released.Doe sued the pharmacist, the pharmacy,the police officers, and the stateof Louisiana.
The Court's Ruling:
Following a nonjury trial, the defendantswere found responsible for$40,000 in damages, but the verdictwas reduced to $20,000 because theparties had agreed before trial to limitdamages to that amount. The pharmacistand pharmacy were assessed 75%of the fault, and the police and thestate were found responsible for 25%.Upon appeal, the verdict was overturned,and judgment was rendered infavor of the pharmacy and the pharmacist.
The Court's Reasoning:
The trial court judge was not explicitin his ruling but suggested that hebased his decision on the legal theoriesof false imprisonment and theintentional or negligent infliction ofemotional distress.
An essential element of the tort offalse imprisonment is the detention ofa person. The court found that this didnot occur in this case. There was noevidence that the pharmacist or anyother employee detained Doe, restrictedher movement in the store, oradvised her that she could not leave.Doe testified that at one point she hadgrown so tired of waiting that shenearly left the store. The police conductedtheir own investigation anddid not rely on the pharmacist's suspicions,so false imprisonment was not avalid theory of recovery against eitherthe pharmacist or the pharmacy.
The court further found that the tortof intentional infliction of emotional distressdid not apply because essential elementswere not present. To be successfulwhen raising such a claim, the plaintiffmust show that the defendant's conductwas extreme and outrageous. To the contrary,the behavior of the pharmacist wasnot "outrageous,"nor was it extreme.Without such behavior, his acts couldnot be deemed intentional.
In light of the conversation with theoral surgeon's partner and the otherfacts available to him at the time, thepharmacist was found to have actedlogically. Having found that the pharmacist'sactions were logical, it followedthat he was "reasonable."Withoutan element of unreasonableness,there could be no negligence either.All the legal theories against the pharmacistand the pharmacy failed. Thejudgment was reversed.
Larry M. Simonsmeier isEmeritus Professor ofPharmacy Law atWashington State UniversityCollege of Pharmacy.