Jessica Manosa hosted a party at her parents' vacation home without their knowledge or consent. She furnished alcohol for guests, who were either told of the party directly or found out through word of mouth. Manosa asked her friend Todd Brown to act as a "bouncer" and instructed him to ask for money from any guests whom they did not know personally, in order to contribute to the cost of alcohol.
One guest whom Manosa did not know personally was Thomas Garcia. Witnesses testified that by the time Garcia arrived, he was already visibly intoxicated. Garcia became rowdy and aggressive, and Manosa asked some friends to get Garcia and his friends to leave the party. Manosa's friend Andrew Ennabe helped escort Garcia and his friends back out to their cars. One of Garcia's friends spit on Ennabe, prompting Ennabe to chase the other young man into the street. Garcia had already started his car and as he pulled into the street he hit Ennabe, who died from his injuries.
Ennabe's parents filed a wrongful death suit against Manosa and her parents, alleging general negligence, premises liability, and liability under the Business Code. The Manosas claimed they could not be held liable because their daughter did not sell alcohol. The Ennabes countered that by charging a cover fee, Manosa had "sold" alcohol and could be held liable under the statute. The trial court found for the Manosas and granted summary judgment and the Court of Appeal affirmed. The Ennabes appealed to the California Supreme Court.
The court explained the long history of these alcohol-related liability laws, recounting how various opinions and legislative changes had resulted in a system where social hosts who merely furnished alcohol to guests could not be held liable if those guests later injured someone as a result, but business establishments or anyone else who sold alcohol to visibly intoxicated patrons could be held liable.
While the Manosas argued that Jessica was simply a social host, the court agreed with the Ennabes' argument that by charging a cover fee to enter the party where alcohol was furnished to Garcia, Jessica Manosa's action constituted a "sale" under the law and the case could proceed. The court likened Manosa's party to a "pop up nightclub" that charged a cover fee for entry. Ordinary social hosts, the court pointed out, do not use "bouncers," allow uninvited strangers to their home, or charge their guests.
Given the court's assessment of Manosa as someone who sold alcohol to a visibly intoxicated minor who then caused Ennabe's death, the Ennabes could proceed and the ruling for summary judgment in favor of the Manosas was reversed.
Each year around prom time, graduation time, and even throughout the year, teachers and administrators hear of parties being organized by students. Often "tickets" are sold to attend these parties. Even in the most informal of social gatherings, students may charge a small fee for guests to come to their party. This case demonstrates that these situations are cause for serious alarm. Here, the parents, who had no idea this party was even occurring on their vacation property, could potentially be held liable for the death of their daughter's friend. Schools should make sure to discuss these serious issues with parents and with students in older grades, along with other general topics regarding alcohol use, such as drug abuse and drunk driving. In 2011 Civil Code section 1714 was amended to permit these types of claims against a parent, guardian, or another adult for furnishing alcoholic beverages to a person whom he or she knows, or should have known, to be under 21 years of age and that furnishing the alcoholic beverages may be found to be the proximate cause of resulting injuries or death.
Ennabe v. Manosa, --P.3d--, 2014 WL 701894