Let us stipulate: when Rita Cantrell tried to pay for her goods with a thirty-year-old $100 bill, Target employees were foolish in being unable to recognize the old currency, and mistakenly identified it as a possible counterfeit. Cantrell fled the store when Target asked if she had another means of paying, raising suspicions, so Target security staff passed along a photo of Cantrell to 70 other local stores participating in a loss-prevention consortium to notify them of the incident. One of the stores recognized Cantrell as one of its employees and called in the Secret Service, which investigated, and found that the bill was real; Target passed along a new notice clearing Cantrell of any wrongdoing.
Cantrell, shaken and embarrassed by the involvement of the Secret Service and her employer, incurred $200 of medical expenses–and sued. Cantrell acknowledged that Target had a right to notify other stores of the incident, but complained that the manager could have worded his e-mail differently, and, besides, some of the members of the loss-prevention consortium did not have retail operations and thus did not need to know about the incident. Notwithstanding Target’s motion for summary judgment, the court let the case proceed to a jury, which happily proposed that Cantrell be made a millionaire for the inconvenience–$100,000 in “compensatory” damages, and a 30-1 punitive damages ratio. Magistrate Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks entered judgment without touching the figure or waiting for post-trial briefing, and Target says it will appeal, so we’ll see what the Fourth Circuit does with this next year. (Cantrell v. Target Corp., No. 6:06-cv-02723-BHH (D.S.C. 2008); Eric Connor, “Jury set $3.1 milion award in Target case, lawyer says”, Greenville News, Oct. 28).