Weekly Law Resume - June 20, 2013: Strict Interpretation: Declining To Extend Liability Under Civil Code Section 1714

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Adam Rybicki, et al. v. Ashley Carlson, et al.
Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District (May 22, 2013)

California Civil Code section 1714 immunizes from civil liability an individual who provides alcohol to another who, due to intoxication, subsequently is injured or injures a third party. However, there is one specific exception to this immunity: for an adult who knowingly furnishes alcohol at his or her residence to an individual who is known to be, or should have been known to be, under 21 years old. This case considers the applicability of this statute to individuals who allegedly conspired with, or aided and abetted, an adult who knowingly furnished alcohol to someone under the age of 21.

Civil Code section 1714 was enacted in 1978 to reinstate a common law rule in California that had existed until 1971. In 1971, the California Supreme Court held that a commercial vendor who sold alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person could be held liable for injuries caused by that person. See Veseley v. Sager (1971) 5 Cal.3d 153. Subsequent decisions by the California Supreme Court extended this doctrine to include non-commercial providers of alcohol such as social hosts. See Coulter v. Superior Court (1978) 21 Cal.3d 144, 149. Section 1714 explicitly abrogates these cases, with the exception mentioned above, on the theory that it is the consumption of alcohol, and not the furnishing of that alcohol, that is the proximate cause of such injuries.

On April 2, 2011, five young women, all under the age of 21 and each of whom had been drinking, got into a car after partying all night at the house of a friend, Garrett Shoemaker. At 7:15 a.m., one of the women, Jaclyn Garcia, was driving on the wrong side of the road when she struck plaintiff/appellant Adam Rybicki, who was riding his bicycle. Mr. Rybicki suffered serious injuries and brought suit, along with his wife, against Ms. Garcia, the other four women in the car (hereinafter “respondents”), and Mr. Shoemaker.

In the complaint, Mr. Rybicki and his wife alleged that Mr. Shoemaker knowingly furnished alcohol to the under aged Ms. Garcia at his residence, and that respondents conspired with Mr. Shoemaker and/or aided, abetted, and assisted him in providing her with alcohol. Indeed, it was alleged that the respondents went to a retail establishment, solicited adults to purchase alcohol for them, and brought that alcohol to Mr. Shoemaker’s residence, where he then furnished it to Ms. Garcia.

Three of the respondents filed demurrers, while the fourth filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, each arguing that they were immune from liability under section 1714. The trial court sustained each of the demurrers without leave to amend and granted the motion for judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal from these judgments. The question on appeal was whether the four women who were not driving, but were present in the car and alleged to have supplied some of the alcohol consumed, could be held liable for Mr. Rybicki’s injuries.

Taking up this question, the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District affirmed the judgments of the trial court, and held that section 1714(d) cannot be used to “bootstrap” respondents into liability. Looking closely at the language of the statute, the Court determined the key fact was that respondents were not alleged to have furnished alcohol to Ms. Garcia at their residences. Although respondents may have obtained the alcohol and provided it to Mr. Shoemaker, it was only furnished at his residence. Thus, respondents did not fit the exception outlined in section 1714(d) and the consumption of the alcohol by Ms. Garcia acted as an intervening cause to plaintiffs’ injuries.

COMMENT

This case narrowly construes the exception to Civil Code section 1714, restricting liability to an adult who, at his or her residence, knowingly furnishes alcohol to someone under the age of 21. Those who conspire with, or aid and abet that individual are immune to civil liability if the alcohol was not furnished at their residence.

For a copy of the complete decision see:

http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B240211.PDF