Macy's ordered to stop detaining and fining individuals it suspects of shoplifting

Posted by Brad Mazarin | Jul 06, 2016 | 0 Comments

Macy's is one of the world's most famous department stores. The store is a New York institution, whose Thanksgiving Day Parade and Fourth of July fireworks display are beloved by New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world. These events, while popular, are of course incidental to its main business of running its flagship store in Herald Square as well as the hundreds of other Macy's stores located in malls and shopping centers across the United States.

            Loss from shoplifting is a problem for all retail stores, and Macy's is a natural target. In my practice, I see more shoplifting cases from Macy's than from any other single store. Macy's has always been known for being aggressive in preventing theft from its stores. What has become clear, however, is that Macy's has gone beyond what is lawful in preventing thefts and has abused what is known as “shopkeeper's privilege” to violate the rights of numerous individuals, particularly minorities.

            Under New York State law, a retailer has a right to detain an individual it suspects of shoplifting. The retailer has the right to demand the property back in merchantable condition, or alternatively, to demand financial restitution of the retail price of the merchandise up to $1500. In addition, the retailer can seek civil damages in the amount of the higher of $75 or five times the retail price, with a cap of $500. These laws were enacted to protect retailers, but in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of two shoppers who were detained by Macy's security personnel, New York State Supreme Court Judge Manuel Mendez ordered Macy's to stop detaining and fining individuals it accused of shoplifting.

            The class action lawsuit, filed by attorney Faruk Usar on behalf of name plaintiff Cinthia Orellana, a Honduran national, and others similarly situated, is long overdue. Macy's has long been notorious for its private basement jail, for the abusive collection practices conducted on its behalf by Florida Law Firm Palmer, Reifler, and Associates, and for targeting minorities. In 2014, Macy's reached a civil settlement with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in which it agreed to pay $650,000.

            One practice Macy's engages in is to stop and detain an individual for shoplifting even though the individual did not steal anything. Frequently, individuals are charged with shoplifting for doing nothing more than taking merchandise to a different floor or walking with merchandise past several open cash registers. While it is true that under the law you can be charged with shoplifting without leaving the store, it is not a crime to move to a different floor and there are no signs in Macy's telling you not to do this. Rather than keeping individuals under surveillance to determine if they are in fact engaged in shoplifting, it seems that Macy's prefers to assume that an individual is up to no good, take him or her downstairs to their private jail, and then pressure the suspect into signing an admission and paying money to be released.

            If you are arrested and charged with shoplifting from Macy's, you will begin receiving demand letters from a Florida based law firm named Palmer, Reifler. These letters strongly suggest that you must pay the civil penalty demanded or you will be sued for a higher amount. While retailers are permitted to collect a civil penalty from shoplifters in New York, Palmer, Reifler is well known to be a letter mill. I have not heard of an instance where Palmer, Leifler has actually brought suit and it seems clear that their letters are mostly bluff. If you are a defendant in a criminal case and receive a collection letter, you should just give it to your lawyer. The lawyer can then send a letter to Palmer, Reifler, or whichever law firm has sent the letter, stating that you are represented by an attorney and that all future correspondence should be mailed to the lawyer's office. Since this is a “numbers game,” I think it is a bad idea to send in any money.

            If you shop at Macy's, especially if you are a minority, I would offer a few suggestions. First, keep all items you are carrying with the intent to purchase in plain view. Second, do not move from floor to floor with unpaid for items; instead pay for items on the floor you found them on before moving to another floor. Third, avoid surreptitious movements. Finally, if you are returning an item, I would bring this to the attention of a security guard at the entrance to the store and take care of that first before doing any shopping. Following these steps should insure that you are not targeted by abusive store security personnel.

About the Author

Brad Mazarin

I grew up in Rockland County, New York, where I graduated from Clarkstown North High School. I hold a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a J.D. from Vanderbilt University School of Law. As a criminal defense lawyer, I constantly strive to improve my trial skills. I am a member of several bar associations and take numerous continuing legal education courses in my practice area. A few of the professional organizations to which I belong are the New York State Defenders Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the National College of DUI Defense. I focus on DWI defense, and as a lawyer defending drunk driving cases, I find it critical to understand the latest science involving breath and blood testing and I study extensively in this area. I am proud to defend individuals charged with driving while intoxicated since I can think of no other area of law where individual's constitutional rights are so routinely violated. I find defending people accused of DWI as well as of other crimes to be extremely rewarding work and I care deeply about the people who trust me to help them with such a serious problem. Outside of my office, I enjoy spending time with my wife and some good friends. I also enjoy reading, golf, and cooking.


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