Ayers v. Straight, 86-1377

Decision Date13 April 1988
Docket NumberNo. 86-1377,86-1377
Citation422 N.W.2d 643
PartiesRoger J. AYERS, Nancie F. Ayers, Mills Distributing Company and Rebel Express, Inc., Appellants, v. Janice J. STRAIGHT, d/b/a Midway Lounge and J.F.V. Corporation, Appellees. Janice J. STRAIGHT, d/b/a Midway Lounge, Appellee, v. Roger J. AYERS, Nancie F. Ayers and Rebel Express, Inc., Appellants. Janice J. STRAIGHT, d/b/a Midway Lounge, Appellee, v. Randy Joe BARNES, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

R. Jeffrey Lewis and James L. Pray of Gamble, Riepe, Webster, Davis & Green, Des Moines, for appellants Roger J. Ayers, Nancie F. Ayers, Mills Distributing Co. and Rebel Exp., Inc.

Donald C. Beattie, J. Kirk Norris and Ed Skinner of Skinner, Beattie & Wilson, Altoona, for appellant Randy Joe Barnes.

Lee H. Gaudineer and H. Loraine Schnoor of Austin & Gaudineer, Des Moines, for appellee Janice J. Straight.

Gordon K. Darling, Jr. of Darling, Chickering & Darling, Winterset, for appellee J.F.V. Corp.


SCHULTZ, Justice.

In this case the owners of various property interests in a semi-truck and cargo damaged by its intoxicated driver sued two dram shops under Iowa Code section 123.92 (1981). In turn, the dram shops sought equitable contribution from the intoxicated driver, his employers and the owner of the truck.

All parties sought relief from adverse claims by motions for summary judgment. Ruling on such motions, the district court first refused to dismiss the actions for contribution based on active negligence. However, the district court then dismissed the plaintiffs' actions against the dram shops. It ruled that each plaintiff was prevented from bringing this suit by Iowa Code section 123.94 which prohibits an action for contribution or indemnity by "any insurer, guarantor or indemnitor of any intoxicated person." We hold that plaintiffs are not precluded from bringing an action by this section. We further believe that a dram shop may properly seek contribution from those who share common liability for the injuries caused. Therefore, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

As this appeal arises from pretrial rulings, we must garner our facts from the pleadings and admitted facts. On review, we must look at the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Enochs v. City of Des Moines, 314 N.W.2d 378, 379-80 (Iowa 1982).

I. Facts and Proceedings. On December 19, 1982, Randy Joe Barnes was operating a semi-truck rig while intoxicated and drove off the highway, damaging the tractor and trailer and causing expense in moving and salvaging the cargo. Prior to the accident Barnes had become intoxicated at a bar owned by defendant Janice J. Straight and later, while still intoxicated, purchased and consumed beer from a gas station owned by defendant J.F.V.

At the time of the accident, the operation of the semi-truck rig involved several ownership and lease interests. The rig was operated by Rebel Express, Inc. (Rebel), a trucking business that held a certificate of authority to transport commodities issued by the Interstate Commerce Commission. Rebel leased the tractor from titleholders Roger and Nancie Ayers (Ayers). The Ayers owned all the stock in Rebel and Roger was president of Rebel. Rebel was operating the trailer under a lease-purchase agreement with its titleholder, Mills Distributing Co. (Mills). Rebel and the Ayers employed Barnes to drive the truck.

We shall review the status of the pleadings at the time the actions were dismissed. The plaintiffs jointly sued the two dram shops for damages that each party sustained. The Ayers' claim was for the tractor damage, Mills' claim was for the trailer damage and Rebel's claim was for the cost of salvaging the cargo. Great West Casualty Company 1 had reimbursed each plaintiff for this damage less a deductible on each claim. Ayers and Rebel also sought the unreimbursed damage for down-time of the rig.

Straight and J.F.V. sought contribution from Barnes in the event they were held liable to the plaintiffs. Straight also sought contribution from the Ayers and Rebel, alleging that they were actively negligent 2 in maintaining the mechanical condition of the tractor and in supervising their employee Barnes. 3

The defendants moved for a summary judgment dismissing plaintiffs' claims on the grounds that Iowa Code section 123.94 precluded such an action. Plaintiffs Ayers and Rebel, and Barnes, moved for partial summary judgment and adjudication of law points, arguing that the dram shops had no right of contribution against them. The court, after hearing, sustained the defendants' motion but overruled the plaintiffs'.

On appeal the Ayers, Mills and Rebel challenge the dismissal of their claims and all rulings inconsistent with their contention that section 123.94 does not preclude recovery. Barnes, Ayers and Rebel also claim that a dram shop cannot claim contribution from either the intoxicated driver or from those who might share his liability.

II. Does section 123.94 bar plaintiffs' claims? Plaintiffs seek recovery under the dram shop statute. That statute provides that "[e]very ... employer or other person who shall be injured in person or property ... by any intoxicated person or resulting from the intoxication of any such person, shall have a right of action" against a dram shop licensee who sells alcoholic beverages to the person while intoxicated or to the point of intoxication. Iowa Code § 123.92 (1981). Although the plaintiffs' petition seems to fall within the terms of section 123.92, the district court held that their action was barred by the language in section 123.94. This section states: "No right of action for contribution or indemnity shall accrue to any insurer, guarantor or indemnitor of any intoxicated person for any act of such intoxicated person against any licensee. ..." Consequently, the issue is whether plaintiffs fall within the prohibition of section 123.94.

The plaintiffs claim that they are seeking recovery for their own individual losses caused by the intoxicated driver. Although the Ayers and Rebel concede that they would be vicariously liable to third parties for Barnes' actions, they argue that they are not seeking contribution or indemnity, but rather recovery for damage to their own property. As they do not seek contribution or indemnity for a loss that they were required to pay someone else, they maintain that they do not come within the terms of section 123.94. The district court did not directly address this contention. Rather, it reasoned that Great West would be the real beneficiary of any recovery and that this would be improper because it had found that Great West was Barnes' insurer. The court concluded that section 123.94 was enacted to prevent an intoxicated person's insurer from having more rights than the intoxicated person. As to the loss absorbed by each plaintiff due to the deductible, the court concluded that each plaintiff was also an "insurer, guarantor or indemnitor" of the driver and was also precluded under section 123.94. We turn now to address the meaning of this section.

In interpreting statutes, our ultimate goal is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature. Beier Glass Co. v. Brundige, 329 N.W.2d 280, 283 (Iowa 1983). We look to the object to be accomplished, the mischief to be remedied, or the purpose to be served and construe the statute so that it will best effect rather than defeat the legislative purpose. Id. Thus, we begin by looking at the state of the law at the time the statute was enacted. See Doe v. Ray, 251 N.W.2d 496, 501 (Iowa 1977).

In 1971, the legislature enacted the present section 123.94 which provided a new prohibition against certain dram shop actions. 1971 Iowa Acts ch. 131, § 94. Prior to the enactment, liability insurers of vehicles driven by an intoxicated person had a cause of action against a dram shop for losses it was required to pay. See Federated Mut. Implement & Hardware Ins. Co. v. Dunkelberger, 172 N.W.2d 137, 141-42 (Iowa 1969). In Federated Mutual one insurer had a liability policy covering the intoxicated driver while another insurer provided similar coverage to the owner of the vehicle. Both insurers were required to pay injured third parties. We allowed the owner's insurer, as subrogee, to recover indemnity from the dram shop for the full amount of its settlement because the owner's liability was vicarious and his negligence was passive as compared to the active wrong of the dram shop. Id. at 142. We denied the indemnity claim of the driver's insurer, but allowed it to claim contribution from the dram shop as a joint tortfeasor. Id. at 142-43.

The legislature moved in response to our decision in Federated Mutual and enacted section 123.94. See Shasteen v. Sojka, 260 N.W.2d 48, 52 (Iowa 1977) ("[p]laintiff rightly maintains § 123.94 overrules the common law right of contribution recognized in Federated Mutual "); Dairyland Ins. Co. v. Mumert, 212 N.W.2d 436, 441-42 (Iowa 1973) ("[t]...

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