With Christmas just around the corner, the holiday season is well underway.  For many, this means that the next few weeks will be filled with buying and wrapping gifts, baking and decorating cookies, listening to festive holiday tunes, and of course, hosting and attending parties.  It’s fitting, then, that earlier this month the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Ennabe v. Manosa, a case that presents some unanswered questions about social host liability.  

20-year-old Jessica Manosa hosted a house party at a vacant rental residence owned by her parents.  The party was publicized by word of mouth, telephone and text messaging, and approximately 40 to 60 people attended.  The majority of people at the party were under the age of 21, and about one-third were unknown to Manosa.  Before the party, Manosa provided money to purchase beer, tequila, and rum.  The alcoholic beverages were communal and available without limitation to partygoers.  Unfamiliar partygoers were charged a small admission fee before being allowed into the party, and some of this money was used to buy additional alcoholic beverages during the course of the party. 

One of the partygoers was Thomas Garcia (age 20).  Garcia was unknown to Manosa, so he paid an admission fee before being allowed into Manosa’s party.  When Garcia arrived at Manosa’s party, he was already intoxicated, and he continued to consume alcoholic beverages while at the party.  Garcia’s behavior was so rowdy and belligerent that he was eventually asked to leave and Andrew Ennabe, a friend of Manosa’s, escorted Garcia off the premises.  As Garcia drove away, he struck Ennabe, who died a week later from his injuries.  Ennabe’s parents filed a wrongful death action against Manosa.  But can she be held liable?

Civil Code section 1714, subdivision (c) provides broad immunity from civil liability for a social host who “furnishes alcoholic beverages to any person.”  But under Business and Professions Code section 25602.1, a social host could lose that immunity if he or she “sells, or causes to be sold, any alcoholic beverages, to any obviously intoxicated minor.”  Thus, the question of Manosa’s liability (or her immunity therefrom) depends, at least in part, on whether she is deemed to have sold, or caused to be sold, an alcoholic beverage to Garcia.  The Court of Appeal concluded that Manosa’s actions—namely, collecting money from guests for a common fund with which to purchase alcoholic beverages or to help defray the cost of obtaining alcoholic beverages—did not amount to “selling.”

The California Supreme Court granted review and arguments were heard on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 in Los Angeles.  By all accounts, both parties faced some tough questioning from the panel of justices, leading many to expect a split decision.  This case, which has now been pending in the Supreme Court for more than 2 years, should finally be resolved within the next few months.  Stay tuned for the result!