Tuesday, February 25, 2014
S.C.: Unlicensed Sale of Alcohol May Make Social Host Liable
Admission Charge May Convert Furnishing of Alcohol to Drunken Minor to ‘Sale,’ Justices Rule
By MICHAEL J. PEIL, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court ruled yesterday that civil immunity for social hosts who furnish alcohol at parties does not preclude liability for the injuries caused by intoxicated minor guests who paid an admission fee to drink.
The court, in an opinion by Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, reinstated Faiez and Christina Ennabe’s wrongful death action against Jessica Manosa and her parents, finding that Manosa was potentially liable for the death of Andrew Ennabe under Business and Professions Code §25602.1.
Werdegar said the pleaded facts established triable issues as to whether Manosa was a “person who [sold], or cause[d] to be sold, any alcoholic beverage, to any obviously intoxicated minor,” by alleging that she charged an entrance fee to guests, which entitled them to drink alcohol at her party.
Improper Summary Judgment
The trial court improperly granted, with the appellate court affirming, summary judgment in favor of Manosa, Werdegar explained, because, while social hosts usually enjoy immunity arising from having furnished alcohol, Manosa could be found to have “sold” alcohol to her guests and would therefore not be entitled to immunity.
Section 25602.1 provides that a cause of action may be brought by any person who has suffered injury or death against licensees and any other person who sells, or causes to be sold, alcoholic beverages when that sale is the proximate cause of the injury.
Werdegar explained that the Business and Professions Code applied to Manosa, explaining that §25602.1 was not confined to commercial enterprises in the business of selling alcoholic drinks.
“The final category of persons addressed by section 25602.1 is more of a catchall: ‘any other person’ who sells alcohol. Consistent with the plain meaning of the statutory language…we find this final category includes private persons and ostensible social hosts who, for whatever reason, charge money for alcoholic drinks.”
In 2007, according to the Ennabes’s pleadings, Manosa hosted a party at the vacant rental residence of her parents, Carlos and Mary, without their consent. The majority of people who attended the party were under 21 years of age, as was Manosa. A person standing at the entrance to the party charged each person an admission fee of three to five dollars.
Thomas Garcia paid the admission fee and was instructed that alcoholic beverages were available if he wanted them. Manosa had purchased alcohol for the party, but the record was unclear as to whether other people had brought their own alcohol.
Garcia calculated, but later denied, that he drank at least four shots of whiskey at the party, before being requested to leave for inappropriate behavior. Garcia and his friends were escorted to their car, at which time an altercation arose between the group and Andrew Ennabe.
Ennabe chased the people towards their car, which Garcia was driving, when he was run over, resulting in his death.
Faiez and Christina Ennabe, on behalf of themselves and the estate of their son, sued Manosa and her parents for general negligence, premises liability, and liability under §25602.1
The Manosas moved for summary judgment or adjudication, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Dukes granted the motions, because the Manosas were found to be entitled to civil immunity under §25602 and Civil Code §1714.
The Court of Appeal explained that the Manosas could not be liable under the statute, because there was no sale, where the alcohol was not transferred to Garcia at the time the admission fee was paid, making it impossible to determine who held title to the alcoholic beverage at the time of consumption. Werdegar said, however, that a sale took place, irrespective of when Garcia took possession of a drink, because consideration was given for the alcohol and it was not free.
“Although his payment of the admission fee did not entitle him to, say, take possession of all the alcohol at the party, nor did he at that time necessarily take title to any particular drink, when Garcia did pour himself a drink and begin to consume it, title to that drink clearly passed to him.”
The court agreed with the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, which filed an amicus brief, looking to its own 2009 trade information guide, that a sale takes place during indirect transactions. When an admission fee is charged, Werdegar reasoned, and alcohol is included in the charge but not accounted for separately, a sales transaction still transpires.
This decision, Werdegar remarked, means:
“If a paying guest does not drink, there can be no liability….If the guest drinks a beverage provided by someone other than the host, the same result obtains….Finally, for guests who pay no admission charge the host retains her immunity….[so] a social host can retain her immunity by simply refraining from charging any of her invited guests.”
The case was argued in the Supreme Court by Abdalla J. Innabi of Pasadena’s Innabi Law Group for the plaintiffs and Richard H. Nakamura Jr. of Morris, Polich & Purdy for the defendants.
The case is Ennabe v. Manosa, 14 S.O.S. 938.
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