Puerto Rico Supreme Court:
Store may check sales receipts at exit door
Requiring shoppers to show their sales receipts when exiting the store is a valid business practice and not a breach of privacy, according to the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico in its opinion in the case of Castro Cotto v. Tiendas Pitusa, Inc., 2003 TSPR 101.
The facts are familiar to anyone who has shopped in a growing number of stores on the island: after paying for the merchandise and on the way out, an employee requests to examine the sales receipt. The purpose of the procedure is to ascertain that the date and time stamped thereon are current. That prevents a thieve from using an old ticket to appropriate unpaid merchandise. In simple terms, it intends to prevent shoplifting.
After spending the sum of $8.31 to purchase a number of articles at Hipermercado Pitusa de Bayamón, Castro refused to produce his receipt when requested by the security guard manning the exit door. The guard called his supervisor, who explained to Castro the reason for the measure. Apparently satisfied with the explanation, Castro acceded. However, he subsequently filed suit, claiming breach of privacy rights and illegal detention.
Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals sided with Castro, ordering defendant Pitusa to pay him the sum of $7,500 as compensation for damages suffered, and $2,500 in attorney's fees. But the Supreme Court thought otherwise.
Damages suffered by the illegal detention of a person may be compensated under the law, the Court said; also those that result from a breach of privacy rights, which in Puerto Rico enjoy constitutional status and must be observed both by the government, and by private individuals and entities. However, Pitusa was absolved on both counts.
An action for damages on account of illegal detention must meet three characteristics, the Court explained:
1- there must be an intentional deprivation of a person's liberty to move;
2- said victim must be aware of the detention and may have not consented to it; and
3- the detention must have caused damages to the victim.
Pitusa never detained Castro, but only requested him to show his receipt-a routine practice of the establishment applicable to all customers.
Breach of privacy
Because the Court of Appeals had ruled the receipt examination system to be unconstitutional, the Supreme Court went ahead and reversed on that point too.
The constitutional right to privacy is not absolute, but must be necessarily examined within the realms of time and place. In cases like Pitusa's, the customer's right to be left alone runs into the storekeeper's to protect his business.
In 1986 the Supreme Court had considered the use of electronic equipment to sense unpaid inventory when a person exits the store, and found that its use does not contravene the right to privacy. Sociedad de Gananciales v. Gonzalez Padín, 117 D.P.R. 94 (1986). Now it extended the doctrine to Pitusa's "mechanism" of having an employee examine receipts. "It must be remembered," the Court emphasized, "that this case deals about a person that voluntarily went to a commercial establishment to purchase certain products." n
© 2003 Goldman Antonetti