Lawyer Victorious After Two-Year Legal Battle Over $3.76

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New Jersey’s Appellate Division reversed Adam Goodmann’s shoplifting conviction on February 2, bringing to an end a two-year legal battle that began with a dispute over a $3.76 charge for film developing.

Goodmann was charged with shoplifting in 2005 after he refused to pay Walgreens for a set of prints. He pointed out that Walgreens had screwed up his order the first time, and that he was entitled to double prints for $5.99. The store insisted he could only get single prints for $9.75. The stage was set for a titanic legal battle.

Goodmann refused to pay and said he was going to take his pictures anyway. Assistant manager John Evans, defending his turf, said he would call the police and charge Goodmann with shoplifting if he did that. Goodmann responded, “Do what you can,” wrote his name, address, and “will settle this in court” on a piece of paper, and left. The authorities were duly informed.

Goodmann was convicted in municipal court of shoplifting, fined $150, and was sentenced to 10 days of community service. (He also had to pay the $9.75.) He appealed.

The Superior Court affirmed his sentence. But the Appellate Division (which is, somehow, superior to the Superior Court) reversed, noting that the New Jersey shoplifting statute covers the taking of “merchandise.”  The pictures weren’t “merchandise,” it said, because they belonged to Goodmann when he took them. (Evidently there are a surprising number of cases about the legal status of developed pictures, usually when a professional photographer’s pictures have been lost or ruined. You’ll be pleased to know that your amateur photos, according to this court, have no value at all.)  Walgreens might have a claim as the “bailee” of the pictures, but on these facts, Goodmann wasn’t a shoplifter.

Prosecutors said they would not appeal further. They declined to estimate how much had been spent on attempts to uphold the criminal conviction in this important matter.