Let’s be honest. While most of us have shopped at Walmart at some time in our lives, the company is not exactly known for its stellar customer service. It’s hard to find a salesperson to help when you need one, but the real issue customers complain about the increase of self-checkout cash registers. Not only do they add extra work for the consumer, but the machines themselves are not always easy to use – and when something goes wrong, it can be a real hassle.
For Lesleigh Nurse, however, that hassle turned into a criminal charge. The Alabama native was falsely accused of shoplifting groceries from Walmart in 2016. On November 27 of that year, she used the self-checkout register at her local Walmart to purchase her groceries. Unfortunately, the scanning device froze as Nurse was ringing up her groceries; still, her husband was able to pay for the $122 worth of groceries they purchased.
Shortly after paying the bill, the store’s employees stopped Nurse and accused her of not paying for an additional $48 worth of groceries. Although Nurse explained that her husband paid for all of the purchases, she was ultimately charged with shoplifting. The charges against her were eventually dropped, though not before she spent about four hours in county lockup and paid to be released on bond.
But things did not get better for Lesleigh Nurse. In fact, Nurse stated that she continued to receive letters from Walmart threatening to take legal action against her if she did not pay $200 as a settlement. The $200 settlement was more than the original amount of groceries that Nurse was accused of stealing. It was more than the total cost of the grocery bill plus the additional $48 worth of groceries, too.
Nurse filed a lawsuit against Walmart because the abusive letters didn’t stop coming. She was awarded $2.1 million in punitive damages.
How an erroneous $48 shoplifting charge turned into a multi-million dollar lawsuit
Nurse stated that Walmart instructed their law firm to send the letters. As it turns out, a Nurse is not the only person who has received these types of letters. The lawsuit revealed that Walmart engages in a practice of falsely accusing innocent customers of shoplifting and then attempting to collect money from the innocently accused. From a 2018 New York Times report:
Shoplifting is an intractable problem for retailers, costing stores more than $17 billion a year, according to an industry estimate. To get the money back, many companies employ aggressive legal tactics and take advantage of loosely written state laws, pushing for restitution even when people have not been convicted of wrongdoing.
Many of the laws were established so retailers could pursue shoplifters without clogging up the courts. Retailers, though, often move on both fronts, pressing criminal charges against suspects, while demanding that they pay up before cases are resolved.
In many states, retailers do not have to return the money they collect if the cases are ultimately dismissed or the people are cleared. A Walmart executive, in a court deposition, acknowledged that the company did not follow up to check on whether people it sought money from had been convicted of shoplifting.
This aggressive pursuit is not simply irritating or harassing it is downright abusive, and had real world consequences for the family. Nurse said that she was “berated” by the Walmart employees who falsely accused her of shoplifting, “asking how she could shoplift in front of her 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. Since then, she said, her children have been ridiculed by other students over their mother’s arrest. A carpet and upholstery cleaning business that she runs with her husband has suffered immeasurably, she said.”
Meanwhile, her attorneys were repeatedly denied access to the security footage from the store – footage that could have cleared her name right away. During the civil trial, the judge criticized Walmart for “intentionally losing” the security camera footage. The judge stated that the court would advise the jury that the videotapes were “destroyed by the defendants with the intent” to deprive the plaintiff of the opportunity of seeing them. Because of this statement, the jury is to “presume that the content of the missing videos would be adverse” to the defendants. Even the Walmart spokesman was unable to answer questions related to the videotapes that were destroyed.
The jury found Walmart liable for abuse of process. Abuse of process is an offense where a party is guilty of bringing a malicious legal proceeding against another party with the intention of harassing them. Nurse was awarded $2.1 million in punitive damages.
Why this story matters
Nurse’s criminal defense lawyer stated that Walmart went out of its way to ruin her life. She still has the reputation of a thief, despite the fact that she won her lawsuit. Nurse believes that the damage to her reputation cannot be undone, and no amount of money is going to change that fact.
Nurse’s story may be a bit extreme, but the effects on her life are common. A shoplifting charge, let alone a conviction, can cost you more than you think. Certain industries require “morality” clauses, and even though it is unfair, you could be denied a job or terminated from your current position. You could loose out on educational scholarships, or even have your enrollment acceptance rescinded.
Misdemeanor crimes may not carry the same penalties as felony crimes, but they can affect your life in myriad negative ways. This is why you should consider calling an experienced attorney if you are facing criminal charges. If you ever find yourself in a position like Lesleigh Nurse did, we can help you fight the charges – and we can file a civil lawsuit, too.
Few experiences are more frightening than being accused of a crime. But you are presumed innocent under the law – and the right Sevierville criminal defense attorney can ensure that this right is upheld. At Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, we defend your rights under the law when you stand accused of a crime. Please call 865-428-8780, or submit our contact form to make an appointment or to request an in-custody visit. We are proud to protect clients in and around Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge.
Attorney Bryan E. Delius was born and raised in Sevier County, TN. He founded Delius & McKenzie more than 20 years ago, after receiving his JD from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He is admitted in Tennessee and in several federal court systems. Learn more about Bryan E. Delius.