When Mardy Errera, owner of Jimmy's Crab House Restaurant in Kent Village, tried to make a customer pay a $33 bill two years ago, he did not realize his efforts eventually would cost him $4,600.
After Errera called police to arrest customer Albert Britt, Britt turned around and sued the restaurant owner for false imprisonment. Yesterday, a Prince George's Country Circuit Court jury ruled in Britt's favor and ordered Errera to pay his erstwhile customer $4,600.
"It's not the money I'm concerned with," said Britt as he waited for the jury to return yesterday. "It's the principle."
The court case began innocently on May 21, 1977, when Britt and four friends decided to go to Jimmy's Crab House for dinner. In the middle of the meal, Britt's friends started talking about skipping out without paying the check, according to Britt's attorney.
Britt objected, saying he was a regular customer there and did not want to create bad blood.
His friends finished their meals first and headed to the parking lot.A few minutes later, Britt dropped $11 on the table and started to leave the restaurant.
He was stopped by a waitress, who objected that the group had left only $14 to cover a $33 bill. So Britt and the waitress went out to the parking lot where, Britt thought, his friends would be waiting for him.
They were not.
Britt called his wife to come and get him. By the time she arrived, so had police, summoned by the restaurant manager. As he was being taken to the police station, Britt told his wife not to pay the bill.
She paid anyway. A few weeks later, Britt - who was released immediately and never booked on any charges - filed suit.
"I think this is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," an angry Errera said yesterday as his attorney announced plans to appeal the verdict.
"What this means," Errera said, "is that some bum can come into a restaurant, eat dinner, not pay the check, take me to a court and then get $4,600."