June 3, 2019

A Cup of Joe | A Case of Shopping Cart Rage in the Bronx

There’s no place like home. This week’s case brings us to Jerome Avenue in the Norwood section of the Bronx where there is a Family Dollar supermarket.

Enter: Thalia, a shopper and her 9-year-old son, Preston; Ed Mintah, a Family Dollar employee; and, Felix, the store manager.

This is a case about power.

It was a chilly early evening in mid-March at about 4:45 p.m., when Thalia and her son, Preston went to the Family Dollar to pick up some groceries for supper. They looked around the front of the store for a shopping cart, but there was none to be found. Thalia started searching the aisles when she came upon an empty cart. There was no one nearby so she thought it was free to use.

As Thalia grabbed the cart to pull it towards her, Ed Mintah, a Family Dollar employee walked over to Thalia and told her she could not have the cart, and that she should use a basket instead. Confused, Thalia said to Ed Mintah that no one was using the cart and that she wanted to use it. As Thalia began pulling the cart away, Ed Mintah grabbed Thalia from behind. As he was holding Thalia firmly he whispered in her ear, "the manager won't be able to help you."

Thalia pulled away from Ed Mintah and grabbed her cart. At the same time, Ed Mintah grabbed the cart as well and began to pull it away from Thalia creating a bizarre tug-of-war in the aisle of the supermarket as Preston looked on. Then Ed Mintah tried to pry Thalia's hands from the cart, and scratched Thalia’s fingers. Thalia, now bleeding and feeling threatened, sprayed Ed Mintah with her pepper spray. The noxious spray hit Ed Mintah in his eyes. He screamed in pain and finally let go of the cart. Thalia then took Preston by the hand and quickly left the store. After Thalia left the store, she began to experience pain in her left shoulder and noticed cuts on her fingers. When Thalia got home, she was unable to get undressed because the pain in her hands and shoulder. So, she went to Montefiore Medical Center where she was treated. Thalia received injections for the pain and to prevent an infection.

A few months later, Thalia someone knocked on her door. It was the police. They came to arrest Thalia because Ed Mintah pressed charges for being pepper sprayed. Thalia was taken to the precinct and was fingerprinted and photographed. Mercifully, Thalia was given a Desk Appearance Ticket.

Although the criminal case against Thalia was dismissed, because Preston was nine when was with Thalia at the Family Dollar store during the incident giving rise to the arrest, Administration for Children's Services (ACS),  showed-up at her home and initiated an investigation. As a result of the incident and her injuries Thalia missed four days of work. As a result of the arrest and the ACS investigation, requiring Thalia to meet with ACS employees, Thalia missed five days of work.  Thalia sued Ed Mintah and Family Dollar in Small Claims Court for $5,000.

Testimony of Little Preston – 9 Years Old.

Q: Do you know why you are here, Preston?

A: Yeah, to tell the judge about what happened with mommy at the store with the man.

Q: And you understand that you have to tell the truth?

A: Yes.

Q: If you told the judge something that wasn't true, what would happen to you?

A: I'd be punished.

Q: Who would punish you?

A: God.

Q: What would happen to you?

A: I wouldn't go to heaven.

Q: Do you know the differences between right and wrong?

A: Yes.

Q: What is the difference?

A: When I do things right, I'm a good boy, and when I do things wrong, I'm a bad boy.

Q: And if you do not tell the judge the truth, would that make you a good boy or a bad boy?

A: Bad.

Q: Tell the judge what happened at the supermarket with mommy and the man.

A: Mommy was getting the wagon and the man came over and started yelling at mommy.

Q: Why?

A: I don’t know. The man made me scared.

Q: Did he touch your mom?

A: Yes: he grabbed her and put his mouth near her ear. And he pulled the wagon away from mommy real hard. He cut mom. There was blood.

Testimony of Feliz Hernandez – Store Manager

Q: How did you become aware that there was an incident involving one of your customers?

A: I heard Ed Mintah scream so I made a bee-line for the aisle where the scream was coming from.

Q: What did you see?

A: I saw Ed Mintah with his hands covering his eyes. He said that he had been pepper sprayed by the customer. I took him to the back of the store to provide him aid.

Q: Was the store equipped with cameras at the time?

A: Yes. The store was equipped with video surveillance, which I reviewed after the incident.

Q: What did you see?

A: The video showed that Ed Mintah and the customer were arguing over a shopping cart but that it did not show that Ed Mintah grabbed or touched the customer.

Q: Is Mintah here to testify?

A: No. He is no longer employed with Family Dollar.

Q: Do you have the video here.

A: No, I don’t.

Thalia’s Proof

In addition to her own testimony, Thalia submitted the record from Montefiore Medical Center; a pay stubs from her job. That was it. No doctor and no other witnesses.

The Verdict

A claimant in a Small Claims case can recover damages for personal injuries which cause pain and suffering. In a case like Thalia’s you do not need testimony from a doctor. After considering all the evidence at trial, the Court found that Thalia credibly established that she was battered by Ed Mintah while he was employed by Family Dollar, and that Family Dollar was liable for Mintah's action. Also, the Court found that Thalia believably established that she sustained physical injuries causing her pain and suffering and that she lost time from work as a result of the battery.

Why was Family Dollar on the hook? The test is whether Ed Mintah’s act was done while he was doing work for Family Dollar, no matter how irregularly, or with what disregard of instructions.

Thalia and Preston win $5,000.

Here is the case:



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