Baessler v. Freier, No. S–10–0212.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtBefore KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.
PartiesPaul BAESSLER, as personal representative for the Estate of Carol Ann Munkberg, Deceased; and Karen R. Schmid, as personal representative for the Estate of John Allan Munkberg, Deceased, Appellants (Plaintiffs),v.Doug FREIER and Denny Freier, husband and wife, individually and d/b/a Stockman's Bar and the Smokehouse Saloon, Wyoming Partnerships in Fact, Appellees (Defendants).
Docket NumberNo. S–10–0212.
Decision Date26 August 2011

258 P.3d 720
2011 WY 125

Paul BAESSLER, as personal representative for the Estate of Carol Ann Munkberg, Deceased; and Karen R. Schmid, as personal representative for the Estate of John Allan Munkberg, Deceased, Appellants (Plaintiffs),
v.
Doug FREIER and Denny Freier, husband and wife, individually and d/b/a Stockman's Bar and the Smokehouse Saloon, Wyoming Partnerships in Fact, Appellees (Defendants).

No. S–10–0212.

Supreme Court of Wyoming.

Aug. 26, 2011.


[258 P.3d 722]

Representing Appellants: Larry B. Jones and William L. Simpson of Simpson, Kepler & Edwards, LLC, The Cody, Wyoming division of Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh and Jardine, P.C., Cody, Wyoming; and Patrick J. Crank of Nicholas & Crank, PC, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Argument by Mr. Jones.Representing Appellees: Ryan P. Healy of Healy Law Firm, Sheridan, Wyoming.Representing Wyoming Attorney General in his official capacity: Jay Jerde, Deputy Attorney General.Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.VOIGT, J., delivers the opinion of the Court; KITE, C.J., files a dissenting opinion in which HILL, J., joins.*VOIGT, Justice.

[¶ 1] The district court dismissed the appellants' civil action against the appellees for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The dismissal and this appeal raise issues of statutory construction and the constitutionality of a statute, with the focal question being the liability of a provider of alcohol for damages caused to a third person by the person to whom alcohol was provided.1 We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶ 2] 1. Does the word “legally” in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 12–8–301(a) (LexisNexis 2011) encompass legal enactments beyond Title 12 of the Wyoming Statutes such as the municipal ordinances at issue in this case?

2. If Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 12–8–301(a) prohibits liability under municipal ordinances, is the statute unconstitutional as violative of the equal protection provisions of the United States Constitution and the Wyoming Constitution?

3. If Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 12–8–301(a) prohibits liability under municipal ordinances, is the statute unconstitutional as violative of the special law provisions of article 3, section 27 of the Wyoming Constitution?

WYO. STAT. ANN. § 12–8–301

[¶ 3] § 12–8–301. Limitation of liability.

(a) No person who has legally provided alcoholic liquor or malt beverage to any other person is liable for damages caused by the intoxication of the other person.

(b) This section does not affect the liability of the intoxicated person for damages.

(c) This section does not affect the liability of the licensee or person if the alcoholic liquor or malt beverage was sold or provided in violation of title 12 of the Wyoming statutes.

(d) For purposes of this section “licensee” is as defined in W.S. 12–1–101(a)(viii) and includes the licensee's employee or employees.

FACTS 2

[¶ 4] The appellants are the personal representatives of the estates of a husband and wife, Allan and Carol Ann Munkberg, who were killed in a motor vehicle accident caused by Randall LaBrie, who also died in the accident. Prior to the accident, LaBrie became intoxicated as a result of consuming alcoholic beverages at the Stockman's Bar in Basin, Wyoming, and the Smokehouse Saloon in Greybull, Wyoming, both of which establishments are owned by the individually named appellees. LaBrie's conduct at both establishments showed that he was highly intoxicated, and such conduct was obvious and noticeable to anyone in his presence. Nevertheless, the appellees' employees at both establishments continued to serve alcoholic beverages to LaBrie.

[¶ 5] The appellants filed a wrongful death/negligence complaint against the appellees,

[258 P.3d 723]

in which they also sought a judgment declaring § 12–8–301 unconstitutional if, as a matter of law, the statute provided immunity to the appellees for their tortious conduct. The appellees responded with a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to W.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. After additional briefing and argument, the district court granted the motion to dismiss on the ground that this Court had already found the statute to be constitutional in Greenwalt v. Ram Restaurant Corporation of Wyoming, 2003 WY 77, 71 P.3d 717 (Wyo.2003). This appeal followed.
DISCUSSION
Does the word “legally” in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 12–8–301(a) (LexisNexis 2011) encompass legal enactments beyond Title 12 of the Wyoming Statutes such as the municipal ordinances at issue in this case?

[¶ 6] As applicable to the issues now before the Court, we have described our standard for the review of a dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted as follows:

Our review is de novo, and we employ the same standards and examine the same materials as the district court. We accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Dismissal is appropriate only if it is certain on the face of the complaint that the plaintiff cannot assert any facts that create entitlement to relief.

Swinney v. Jones, 2008 WY 150, ¶ 6, 199 P.3d 512, 515 (Wyo.2008). Statutory construction is also a question of law that is reviewed de novo. Sponsel v. Park County, 2006 WY 6, ¶ 9, 126 P.3d 105, 108 (Wyo.2006).

[¶ 7] The issue of statutory construction presently before the Court is whether the limitation of liability provided in § 12–8–301(a) extends to any provider who has not violated a provision of Title 12 of the Wyoming Statutes or, to the contrary, extends to any provider who has not violated a provision of Title 12 of the Wyoming Statutes or any other provision of law that may apply to the sale or providing of alcohol. Specifically, if the appellees did not violate Title 12 in providing alcohol to LaBrie, but did violate the provisions of local ordinances, do they lose the limitation on liability provided by the statute? Stated differently, and in terms related to a negligence cause of action, is the standard of care under the phrase “legally provided” limited to adherence to the provisions of Title 12, or can the standard of care under the statutory language be determined by the existence of a municipal ordinance?

[¶ 8] While this precise question may not directly have been presented in Greenwalt, the opinion in that case clearly reveals our conclusion that Title 12 “covers the field” in regard to the meaning of “legally provided” in § 12–8–301(a). In the course of generally discussing the plenary nature of the police power of the legislature, we examined that body's 1985 response to McClellan v. Tottenhoff, 666 P.2d 408 (Wyo.1983), in which case this Court had “established a common law tort claim upon which relief could be granted against a liquor vendor and in favor of an injured third-party.” Greenwalt, 2003 WY 77, ¶ 12, 71 P.3d at 723. First, we recognized that “regulation of all matters concerning intoxicating liquors is an area over which the legislative department is free to exercise its plenary police power.” Id. at ¶ 19, 71 P.3d at 725. Next, we noted that the legislature's “comprehensive exercise” of those powers is “largely found” in Title 12. Id. at ¶ 20, 71 P.3d at 726. With this background, we concluded that

It is within this comprehensive regulatory scheme that we find the evidence of the legislature's exercise of its plenary police power in the form of those specific sections creating the third-parties' tort claim against those liquor licensees and non-licensees who furnish intoxicating liquor to persons who become intoxicated and cause damage to those third parties.

Id.

[¶ 9] The post– McClellan 1985 legislation provided as follows:

12–8–301. Limitation of liability.

(a) No licensee is liable for damages caused by an intoxicated person to whom the licensee legally sold or furnished alcoholic

[258 P.3d 724]

liquor or malt beverage unless the licensee sold or provided alcoholic liquor or malt beverages to a person who was intoxicated; and:

(i) It was reasonably apparent to the licensee that the person buying or receiving the alcoholic liquor or malt beverage was intoxicated; or

(ii) The licensee knew or reasonably should have known from the circumstances that the person buying or receiving the alcoholic liquor or malt beverages was intoxicated.

(b) No person who is not a licensee who has gratuitously and legally provided alcoholic liquor or malt beverage to any other person is liable for damages caused by the intoxication of the other person.

(c) This section does not affect the liability of the intoxicated person for damages.

(d) This section does not affect the liability of the licensee or person if the alcoholic liquor or malt beverage was sold or provided in violation of title 12 of the Wyoming statutes.

(e) For purposes of this section “licensee” is as defined in W.S. 12–1–101(a)(viii) and includes the licensee's employee or employees.

1985 Wyo. Sess. Laws, ch. 205, § 1 at 342.

[¶ 10] We will not repeat Greenwalt's lengthy analysis of the 1985 legislation. Suffice it to say for the purpose of our current analysis that the statute recognized two types of licensee liability: in subsection (a), liability for selling or providing alcohol to an intoxicated person under certain circumstances, and in subsection (d), liability for selling or providing alcohol in violation of Title 12. Clearly, the legislature viewed the type of liability recognized in subsection (a) as being legislative business within its police powers. As stated in Greenwalt, the legislation “had enacted a full and comprehensive regulatory scheme expressing the state's social policy in the problematic area of liquor provider liability.” Greenwalt, 2003 WY 77, ¶ 25, 71 P.3d at 727.

[¶ 11] Less than a year after the close of the 1985 legislative session, however, § 12–8–301 was amended to read as it does today, and as it is set forth above. See supra ¶ 3. We noted in Greenwalt that

one readily sees significant legislative retrenchment of...

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6 practice notes
  • Powers v. State, No. S-13-0052
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • January 3, 2014
    ...the Act.STANDARDS OF REVIEW[¶93] Whether a statute is constitutional is a question of law which we review de novo. Baessler v. Freier, 2011 WY 125, ¶ 13, 258 P.3d 720, 725 (Wyo. 2011). Since statehood, this Court has consistently followed the maxim that every statute is presumed constitutio......
  • Powers ex rel. Wyoming v. State, No. S–13–0052.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • February 12, 2014
    ...the Act.STANDARDS OF REVIEW [¶ 93] Whether a statute is constitutional is a question of law which we review de novo.Baessler v. Freier, 2011 WY 125, ¶ 13, 258 P.3d 720, 725 (Wyo.2011). Since statehood, this Court has consistently followed the maxim that every statute is presumed constitutio......
  • KC v. State (In re Interest of GC), No. S–14–0247.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 20, 2015
    ...re MC, ¶ 29, 299 P.3d at 81. [¶ 17] We also review challenges to the constitutionality of statutes de novo. Baessler v. Freier, 2011 WY 125, ¶ 13, 258 P.3d 720, 725 (Wyo.2011) (“The appellant's burden of proof is heavy, and it includes the obligation to show both that he has a constitutiona......
  • GC v. State, S-14-0247
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 20, 2015
    ...heard."). In re MC, ¶ 29, 299 P.3d at 81.[¶17] We also review challenges to the constitutionality of statutes de novo. Baessler v. Freier, 2011 WY 125, ¶ 13, 258 P.3d 720, 725 (Wyo. 2011) ("The appellant's burden of proof is heavy, and it includes the obligation to show both that he has a c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Powers v. State, No. S-13-0052
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • January 3, 2014
    ...the Act.STANDARDS OF REVIEW[¶93] Whether a statute is constitutional is a question of law which we review de novo. Baessler v. Freier, 2011 WY 125, ¶ 13, 258 P.3d 720, 725 (Wyo. 2011). Since statehood, this Court has consistently followed the maxim that every statute is presumed constitutio......
  • Powers ex rel. Wyoming v. State, No. S–13–0052.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • February 12, 2014
    ...the Act.STANDARDS OF REVIEW [¶ 93] Whether a statute is constitutional is a question of law which we review de novo.Baessler v. Freier, 2011 WY 125, ¶ 13, 258 P.3d 720, 725 (Wyo.2011). Since statehood, this Court has consistently followed the maxim that every statute is presumed constitutio......
  • KC v. State (In re Interest of GC), No. S–14–0247.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 20, 2015
    ...re MC, ¶ 29, 299 P.3d at 81. [¶ 17] We also review challenges to the constitutionality of statutes de novo. Baessler v. Freier, 2011 WY 125, ¶ 13, 258 P.3d 720, 725 (Wyo.2011) (“The appellant's burden of proof is heavy, and it includes the obligation to show both that he has a constitutiona......
  • GC v. State, S-14-0247
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 20, 2015
    ...heard."). In re MC, ¶ 29, 299 P.3d at 81.[¶17] We also review challenges to the constitutionality of statutes de novo. Baessler v. Freier, 2011 WY 125, ¶ 13, 258 P.3d 720, 725 (Wyo. 2011) ("The appellant's burden of proof is heavy, and it includes the obligation to show both that he has a c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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