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How much is public humiliation worth in court? Lou and Betty Landay want to find out. The Landays are a retired couple who were regulars at the Riggins Crabhouse in Lantana, Fla. Since they ate there all the time, they were allowed to pay by personal check. But their lawyer says they won’t be back until they get a $31 refund. In a complaint filed last week in Palm Beach Circuit Court, the couple sued Riggins Crabhouse Inc. and its manager, alleging civil theft, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Landays seek $31 they said was taken from them under duress on Jan. 31, 2002, by the restaurant’s manager, Daniel Callero. Callero, according to the complaint, waited until the Landays had eaten a meal at the restaurant, then refused to let them leave until they gave him $31 for a previous meal. The manager told them their previous check had bounced. “He called the cops,” said the Landays’ lawyer, William N. Swift, a Palm City solo practitioner. “The police said [the couple] couldn’t leave until they paid.” Even though the restaurant is in Lantana, the Delray Beach police responded, for unknown reasons. The Landays, according to the suit, paid the $31 rather than face arrest, even though they insisted that none of their checks had bounced. Callero allegedly refused to show them the bounced check. A suit over such a tiny amount normally would go through small claims court, which requires a filing fee of $55. But the Landays chose to go the circuit court route, where minimum damages are $15,000 and a filing fee of $255 is required. That’s because, Swift wrote in the complaint, the Landays felt “humiliated, embarrassed and shocked, suffered great and lasting mental anguish and, as a direct result, [were] injured in … good name and reputation.” They seek any additional compensation beyond the $31 that a jury might deem appropriate, and they want their legal fees paid, the complaint stated. Swift said the couple complained to the Delray Beach Police Department without success. He characterized the department’s dismissal of his clients’ complaint as a “whitewash.” He wants to see if “a smoking gun” emerges in discovery concerning a link between the officers involved and the restaurant management. Callero could not be reached for comment, and the restaurant was closed until later this month. Police Chief Larry Schroeder could not be reached for comment.

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