Bankston v. Brennan

Decision Date21 May 1987
Docket NumberNo. 68281,68281
Citation507 So.2d 1385,12 Fla. L. Weekly 243
Parties, 12 Fla. L. Weekly 243 Edmund Carl BANKSTON, et ux., et al., Petitioners, v. Francis J. BRENNAN, Jr., et al., Respondents.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Arnold Grevior Chartered, Fort Lauderdale, Ralph Pelaia, Jr., Fort Lauderdale and Larry Klein of Klein & Beranek, P.A., West Palm Beach, for petitioners.

Rex Conrad and Valerie Shea of Conrad, Scherer & James, Fort Lauderdale, for respondents.

Arnold R. Ginsberg of Horton, Perse & Ginsberg, Miami, for Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, amicus curiae.

Marjorie Gadarian Graham of Jones & Foster, P.A., West Palm Beach, for Florida Defense Lawyers Ass'n, amicus curiae.

EHRLICH, Justice.

We have for our review Bankston v. Brennan, 480 So.2d 246 (Fla. 4th DCA 1985), wherein the district court certified the following question of great public importance:


Id. at 248. We have jurisdiction, article V, section 3(b)(4), Florida Constitution, and answer the question in the negative.

The respondent, Brian Francis Brennan, a minor, was invited to a party hosted by the Ladikas. Brennan was served alcoholic beverages at the party, and on the way home his automobile collided with a vehicle driven by the petitioner, Eddie Bankston; his wife, Mary Bankston, was a passenger in Eddie's car, as was Eddie and Mary's daughter, Lori. The Bankstons received personal injuries as a result of the collision. The Bankstons brought suit against the Ladikas alleging a violation of section 768.125, Florida Statutes (1983).

The trial court granted Brennan's motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action. In dismissing the Bankston's complaint with prejudice, the trial court relied on two prior decisions of this Court in finding that no cause of action exists against a social host under the circumstances of this case. The district court affirmed the dismissal and certified the question now before us.

Our disposition of the certified question turns solely on the meaning to be given to section 768.125. Therefore, a brief historical narrative is called for.

As specified in its enacting title, the legislature enacted chapter 80-37, Laws of Florida, "[a]n act relating to the Beverage Law," creating section 562.51, which evidences the fact that the legislature clearly intended this act to be included within chapter 562, Beverage Law: Enforcement. Without any legislative direction, 80-37 was subsequently codified by the Joint Legislative Management Committee as section 768.125 in the chapter dealing with Negligence.

Our first occasion to address this statute was in Migliore v. Crown Liquors of Broward, Inc., 448 So.2d 978 (Fla.1984). The issue presented was whether, prior to the effective date of section 768.125, a vendor who sold intoxicating beverages to a minor was liable to third persons injured by the minor's operation of a motor vehicle. We recognized that cases such as Davis v. Shiappacossee, 155 So.2d 365 (Fla.1963), and Prevatt v. McClennan, 201 So.2d 780 (Fla. 2d DCA 1967), had broadened a vendor's liability for injuries to minors or third parties which resulted from illegal sales to minors. 448 So.2d at 980. We therefore held in Migliore that prior to the statute's effective date, such a cause of action did exist. We also held that section 768.125 represented a limitation on a vendor's liability, reasoning:

When the legislature enacted this statute it was presumed to be acquainted with the judicial decisions on this subject, including Davis and Prevatt. Moreover, the legislative intent that this statute limit the existing liability of liquor vendors is clear from its enacting title which reads: "An act relating to the Beverage Law; creating s. 562.51, Florida Statutes [codified as s. 768.125], providing that a person selling or furnishing alcoholic beverages to another person is not thereby liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such other person; providing exceptions; providing an effective date." Chapter 80-37, Laws of Florida (1980).

Id. at 981.

Armstrong v. Munford, Inc., 451 So.2d 480 (Fla.1984), involved an accident which occurred after the effective date of 768.125. We reaffirmed our holding in Migliore that the statute constituted a limitation on the already existing liability of vendors. Id. at 481. This same view of the statute's provisions was again reaffirmed in Forlaw v. Fitzer, 456 So.2d 432, 433 (Fla.1984).

The petitioners advance two basic arguments in support of their contention that 768.125 does create a cause of action against a social host under these circumstances. First, they suggest that Migliore and Armstrong do not control the issue here because those cases only involved vendor liability. Second, they allege that the plain language of the statute and its placement in the chapter dealing with negligence is indicative of the legislature's intent to create a cause of action against a social host. We reject both of these arguments.

As we explicitly recognized in Migliore, vendor liability had been broadened by judicial decisions and that the legislative response to that trend was to limit that liability. It would therefore be anomalous and illogical to assume that a statute enacted to limit preexisting vendor liability would simultaneously create an entirely new and distinct cause of action against a social host, a cause of action previously unrecognized by the common law, see Davis v. Shiappacossee, 155 So.2d 365 (Fla.1963), and which has heretofore been unrecognized by statute or judicial decree.

The polestar of statutory construction is, of course, legislative intent. Although petitioners' argument that the plain language of the statute creates a cause of action against a social host has superficial appeal, we cannot simply ignore our prior decisions of which the legislature is presumably aware. Further, to attach legal significance to the placement of 80-37 in the Negligence chapter, instead of its placement in the chapter on Beverage Law Enforcement as directed by the legislature which enacted 80-37, would in effect allow the Joint Legislative Management Committee, authorized by section 11.242(5)(e) to transfer acts, to alter the substance of a statute. This we refuse to do.

Petitioners' final argument is that if this Court concludes that section 768.125 does not apply to social hosts, we should recognize a common law cause of action in favor of similarly situated plaintiffs. * We decline. We do not hold that we lack the power to do so, but we do hold that when the legislature has actively entered a particular field and has clearly indicated its ability to deal with such a policy question, the more prudent course is for this Court to defer to the legislative branch. The issue of civil liability for a social host has broad ramifications, and as we recently observed, "of the three branches of government, the judiciary is the least capable of receiving public input and resolving broad public policy questions based on a societal consensus." Shands Teaching Hospital and Clinics, Inc. v. Smith, 497 So.2d 644, 646 (Fla.1986). The legislature has evidenced, through chapter 562 and section 768.125 for example, a desire to make decisions concerning the scope of civil liability in this area. While creating such a cause of action may be socially desirable as petitioners cogently argue, the legislature is best equipped to resolve the competing considerations implicated by such a cause of action. We agree with the observation of the Nebraska Supreme Court when faced with a similar issue:

We are mindful of the misery caused by drunken drivers and the losses sustained by both individuals and society at the hands of drunken drivers, but the task of limiting and defining a new cause of action which could grow from a fact nucleus formed from any combination of numerous permutations of the fact situation before us is properly within the realm of the Legislature.

Homes v. Circo, 196 Neb. 496, 504, 244 N.W.2d 65, 70 (1976).

Accordingly, we answer the certified question in the negative and approve the decision of the district court below.

It is so ordered.

McDONALD, C.J., and OVERTON and SHAW, JJ., concur.

BARKETT, J., concurs specially with an opinion.

ADKINS, J. (Ret.), dissents with an opinion.

BARKETT, Justice, specially concurring.

I agree with the majority's analysis that section 768.125, Florida Statutes, was not intended to create a cause of action against a social host. Were I writing on a clean slate, however, I would agree with the supreme courts of Georgia and New Jersey in Sutter v. Hutchings, 254 Ga. 194, 327 S.E.2d 716 (1985), and in Kelly v. Gwinnell, 96 N.J. 538, 476 A.2d 1219 (1984), that common law principles of negligence are applicable to establish such liability. Since the legislature has acted to limit the liability of vendors, however, we cannot find social hosts more liable than the legislature has determined vendors should be.

ADKINS, Justice (Ret.) dissenting.

Section 768.125 provides in pertinent part:

[A] person who willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age ... may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person. [Emphasis supplied.]

When the language of a statute is plain, clear and free of ambiguity this Court is obligated to follow the plain meaning of the statute. Citizens v. Public Service Commission, 425 So.2d 534 (Fla.1982); Carson v. Miller, 370 So.2d 10 (Fla.1979). The plain meaning of section 768.125 requires us to hold that a social host who willfully and unlawfully serves alcoholic beverages to a minor may be liable to any person injured by the actions of the...

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37 cases
  • Hansen v. Friend
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • September 17, 1990
    ...Most of the cases to the contrary involve liability to third parties injured by an intoxicated minor. See, e.g., Bankston v. Brennan, 507 So.2d 1385 (Fla.1987); Lowe v. Rubin, 98 Ill.App.3d 496, 53 Ill.Dec. 919, 424 N.E.2d 710, cert. denied, 85 Ill.2d 578, 62 Ill.Dec. 171, 435 N.E.2d 1143 (......
  • Burkhart v. Harrod
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • May 5, 1988
    ...least capable of receiving public input and resolving broad public policy questions based on a societal consensus.' " Bankston v. Brennan, 507 So.2d 1385, 1387 (Fla.1987) (quoting Shands Teaching Hosp. & Clinics, Inc. v. Smith, 497 So.2d 644, 646 (Fla.1986)). It is for this very reason that......
  • Beard v. Graff, 04-89-00006-CV
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • November 7, 1990
    ...with its public committee hearings, and to resolve broad public policy questions based on a societal consensus. See Bankston v. Brennan, 507 So.2d 1385, 1387 (Fla.1987). The question before this court has many ramifications affecting society which have not been addressed and cannot be resol......
  • Charles v. Seigfried, s. 76617
    • United States
    • Illinois Supreme Court
    • March 30, 1995 impose social host liability upon adults who serve alcoholic beverages to minors, we find that we are not alone. Bankston v. Brennan (Fla.1987), 507 So.2d 1385; Winters v. Silver Fox Bar (1990), 71 Haw. 524, 797 P.2d 51; Johnston v. KFC National Management Co. (1990), 71 [209 Ill.Dec. 23......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Social Host Immunity: A New Paradigm to Foster Responsibility
    • United States
    • Capital University Law Review No. 38-1, September 2009
    • September 1, 2009
    ...that are licensed to sell alcohol in a commercial setting. 12 See Shea v. Matassa, 918 A.2d 1090, 1096 (Del. 2007); Bankston v. Brennan, 507 So. 2d 1385, 1387 (Fla. 1987). 13 See supra text accompanying note 3. 14 See, e.g. , Marcum v. Bowden, 643 S.E.2d 85, 89 (S.C. 2007). 15 An administra......

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