Beauchene v. Synanon Foundation Inc.

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Citation151 Cal.Rptr. 796,88 Cal.App.3d 342
Decision Date16 January 1979
PartiesDonald BEAUCHENE, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. SYNANON FOUNDATION, INC., Defendant and Respondent. Civ. 43901.

Page 796

151 Cal.Rptr. 796
88 Cal.App.3d 342
Donald BEAUCHENE, Plaintiff and Appellant,
SYNANON FOUNDATION, INC., Defendant and Respondent.
Civ. 43901.
Court of Appeal, First District, Division 4, California.
Jan. 16, 1979.
Hearing Denied March 14, 1979.

[88 Cal.App.3d 344] McGuinn & Moore, Bruce S. Osterman, San Francisco, for plaintiff and appellant.

David R. Benjamin, San Francisco, for defendant and respondent.

Page 797

CHRISTIAN, Associate Justice.

Donald Beauchene appeals from a judgment of dismissal which was rendered after the court sustained a demurrer to his complaint in which he had alleged that Synanon Foundation, Inc. was liable for the intentional criminal behavior of Lynn Bentley, who injured appellant after eloping from a Synanon home.

On appeal after a sustained demurrer, the court must assume the truth of the factual allegations of the complaint. (Hoyem v. Manhattan Beach City Sch. Dist. (1978) 22 Cal.3d 508, 517, 150 Cal.Rptr. 1, 585 P.2d 851.) The function of a demurrer is to test the legal sufficiency of the challenged pleading. (Whitcombe v. County of Yolo (1977) 73 Cal.App.3d 698, 702, 141 Cal.Rptr. 189.)

[88 Cal.App.3d 345] Appellant in his complaint as modified by admissions in his briefs, alleges that Synanon Foundation, Inc. is a voluntary private rehabilitation institution that provides a structured or controlled environment for its residents. Its primary purpose is the rehabilitation of drug addicts, alcoholics, and other people with character disorders. With the prior approval of Synanon, California courts have sometimes sent convicted persons to Synanon rather than to a county jail or state prison. Before respondent accepts a convicted person, the person allegedly is screened and interviewed to determine whether his involvement in the program will be dangerous to himself, to Synanon, or to society generally. If respondent were to determine the candidate's involvement would be dangerous, respondent would not accept the person, even if a court were willing to send him to the program.

Lynn Bentley was convicted of first degree burglary on May 2, 1975. The superior court admitted Bentley to probation on condition that he enter the "Synanon program and not leave said program without prior approval of the Probation Officer and the staff of Synanon."

Prior to accepting Bentley, respondent allegedly had rejected several dangerous individuals who had been referred by the courts. When respondent accepted Bentley, respondent knew or should have known that he had a long history of behavioral difficulties, arrests, convictions, criminal confinement, and escape attempts. One superior court had ordered that Bentley, after serving time in jail for one conviction, enter the Delancey Street drug program and not leave there without approval of the program staff. The Probation Department later recommended that Bentley's probation to Delancey Street be revoked, because of his inability to cooperate and comply with the rules of probation. Probation was revoked.

Respondent admitted Bentley on May 10; five days later Bentley, in violation of the court's order and without the permission of the Synanon staff, "escaped" from the program. Bentley went on a "crime spree" that included the harming or killing of several people. On May 23, 13 days after leaving the program, Bentley shot appellant in the arm.

Appellant argues that respondent had a duty to exercise due care in accepting convicted persons into the Synanon program. Alternatively, appellant argues that respondent had an affirmative duty to prevent Bentley from leaving the program.

[88 Cal.App.3d 346] Actionable negligence generally involves five elements:

(a) a defendant's legal duty to exercise due care;

(b) defendant's breach of that duty;

(c) the breach as the actual ("but for") cause of plaintiff's injury;

(d) the breach as the proximate or legal cause of plaintiff's injury; and

(e) damages to plaintiff.

(See Prosser, Torts (4th ed. 1971) p. 143; 4 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (8th ed. 1974) pp. 2749-2750.) Elements (b), (c), (d) and (e) are ordinarily questions of fact for a jury. The existence of a legal duty is primarily a question of law. (See 4 Witkin, Supra, pp. 2755-2759.)

Appellant argues respondent is liable for Bentley's criminal behavior under either of two theories. First, appellant argues respondent

Page 798

was under a duty (1) to refuse admittance to applicants...

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23 cases
  • Hegyes v. Unjian Enterprises, Inc., B047481
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 30, 1991 legal duty of care. The function of a demurrer is to test the legal sufficiency of a pleading. (Beauchene v. Synanon Foundation, Inc. (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 342, 344, 151 Cal.Rptr. 796.) In a case such as this one, where a demurrer has been sustained without leave to amend, the function of......
  • Dugard v. United States
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • August 26, 2016 “members of the community in which it is located for the criminal conduct of its residents”); Beauchene v. Synanon Found., Inc. , 88 Cal.App.3d 342, 151 Cal.Rptr. 796, 798–99 (1979) (holding that a private rehabilitation center owed no duty to the plaintiff to control the behavior of a c......
  • Nigg v. Patterson
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 20, 1990
    ...of a demurrer without leave to amend. Adopting the reasoning and public policy concerns set forth in Beauchene v. Synanon Foundation, Inc. (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 342, 151 Cal.Rptr. 796, it held that a private rehabilitation facility for criminal offenders owes no duty of care to members of th......
  • Clarke v. Hoek
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • November 8, 1985
    ...... [174 Cal.App.3d 214] Ins. Co. v. Haidinger-Hayes, Inc. (1970) 1 Cal.3d 586, 594, 83 Cal.Rptr. 418, 463 P.2d 770; Hooks v. ...Farrar (1983) 139 Cal.App.3d 462, 466, 188 Cal.Rptr. 823; Beauchene v. Synanon . Page 850 . Foundation, Inc. (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 342, 347, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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