Coghlan v. Beta Theta Pi Fraternity

Decision Date30 August 1999
Docket NumberNo. 24318.,24318.
Citation987 P.2d 300,133 Idaho 388
PartiesRejena COGHLAN; Pamela J. Clarke, individually and as parent and guardian ad litem of Thomas Adam Coghlan and Michael J. Clarke, Jr.; Michael J. Clarke; Thomas Adam Coghlan, individually; and Michael J. Clarke, Jr., individually, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. BETA THETA PI FRATERNITY, an Ohio nonprofit corporation; Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, an Illinois nonprofit corporation; Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, a Tennessee nonprofit corporation; Alpha Phi Sorority, an Illinois nonprofit corporation; and The University of Idaho; The Idaho State Board of Education; and John Does I-X, Defendants-Respondents.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Brady Lerma, Chtd., Boise; Spence, Moriarity & Schuster, L.L.C., Jackson, Wyoming, for appellants. G. Bryan Ulmer, III argued.

Keefe, King & Bowman, P.S., Spokane, Washington, for respondent Alpha Phi Sorority. Christopher J. Kerley argued.

Cosho, Humphrey, Greener & Welsh, Boise, for respondents University of Idaho and Idaho State Board of Education. Richard H. Greener argued.

Creason, Moore, Dokken & McIntosh, P.L.L.C., Lewiston, for respondent Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity. Theodore O. Creason argued.

Johnson, McLean, Devlin & Miller, Spokane, Washington, for respondent Beta Theta Pi Fraternity. J. Scott Miller argued.

Lynch & Associates, P.L.L.C., Boise, for respondent Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity. Katherine M. Lynch argued.

SILAK, Justice.

This is a tort action filed by a University of Idaho student who was injured when she fell, while intoxicated, from the third-story fire escape of her sorority house.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
A. Facts

On August 19, 1993, Rejena Coghlan (Coghlan) was an eighteen-year-old freshman at the University of Idaho who had recently been notified of her admission to the Alpha Phi Sorority. At that time, the University of Idaho (University) and campus fraternities and sororities were celebrating the end of "Rush Week," which is an event sponsored and sanctioned by the University in conjunction with campus fraternities and sororities. On that day, Coghlan attended an Alpha Phi house meeting where she learned that the Alpha Phi members were invited to attend several parties sponsored by campus fraternities celebrating the end of "Rush Week." At the meeting, Alpha Phi's alcohol policy prohibiting underage drinking was briefly discussed, and Coghlan was assigned a "guardian angel" by the sorority. The "guardian angel" was an active member of the sorority who was supposed to provide Coghlan with assistance during the night's activities. Afterward, however, Coghlan's "guardian angel" allegedly told Coghlan that she would not be "hanging out" with her that night.

Later that evening, Coghlan attended two fraternity parties: one jointly sponsored by the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) and Pi Kappa Alpha (PKA) Fraternities which was held at the SAE Fraternity house and entitled the "Jack Daniels' Birthday" party, and the other held at the Beta Theta Pi (BTP) Fraternity house entitled the "Fifty Ways to Lose Your Liver" party. Two University of Idaho employees, both Greek advisors for the University, were in attendance at the BTP party. Coghlan alleges that one of the employees saw Coghlan at the BTP party and congratulated her for pledging Alpha Phi Sorority. Coghlan alleges that she was served beer and whiskey at the SAE/PKA party, and she was served mixed hard alcohol at the BTP party. She did not have any identification in her possession, and she was not asked at either party for identification prior to being served.

As a result of Coghlan's drinking at the fraternity parties, she became intoxicated and distraught. Coghlan was eventually escorted home by a sorority sister and put to bed in the third floor sleeping area of the Alpha Phi Sorority house. She later fell thirty feet from the third floor fire escape platform to the ground below. Coghlan was discovered a short time later lying in some bushes below the third floor fire escape landing. She was taken into the house and paramedies were called. As a result of her fall, she sustained permanent injuries.

B. Procedural Background

On August 17, 1995, Coghlan and members of her family (collectively appellants) filed a Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial seeking damages for injuries sustained from her fall from the Alpha Phi Sorority house. In her complaint, Coghlan alleges that the negligent and wrongful acts or omissions of the University, the fraternities which sponsored the parties she attended, and the Alpha Phi Sorority were the direct and proximate cause of her injuries and resulting damages. The district court dismissed Coghlan's claims against the University and the Idaho State Board of Education (University defendants) pursuant to I.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), holding that the University owed no duty of care to Coghlan.1 The district court also granted summary judgment in favor of the BTP and PKA Fraternities holding that the unambiguous language of I.C. § 23-808, Idaho's "Dram Shop" Act, bars suits by intoxicated persons against the server of alcohol and, in turn, bars any suits which are derivative of the intoxicated person's suit. The district court granted SAE Fraternity's motion for summary judgment on the same ground. On June 18, 1997, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Alpha Phi, and, after permitting the plaintiffs to amend their complaint to seek recovery from Alpha Phi on a premises liability theory, the district court granted summary judgment again in favor of Alpha Phi on October 7, 1997.

Coghlan and her family members appeal from an order granting the University defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to I.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), an order granting summary judgment in favor of BTP and PKA, an order granting summary judgment in favor of SAE, and orders granting summary judgment in favor of Alpha Phi Sorority.

II. ISSUES ON APPEAL

The appellants present the following issues on appeal:

A. Whether the trial court erred in holding that Idaho's "Dram Shop" Act prohibits Coghlan from bringing a cause of action against the negligent providers of alcohol.
B. Whether the trial court erred in holding that the University defendants owed no duty of care to Coghlan.
C. Whether the trial court erred in holding that Alpha Phi Sorority owed no duty of care to Coghlan.
III. ANALYSIS
A. The Trial Court Did Not Err In Holding That Idaho's "Dram Shop" Act (I.C. § 23-808) Prohibits Rejena Coghlan From Bringing A Cause Of Action Against The Providers Of Alcohol.

The appellants argue that the district court erred in holding that Idaho's Dram Shop Act, I.C. § 23-808, barred Coghlan's claims seeking to impose liability on the BTP, PKA, and SAE Fraternities and the Alpha Phi Sorority for providing alcohol to Coghlan. The district court ruled that Idaho's Dram Shop Act, I.C. § 23-808, does not recognize actions brought by intoxicated persons against the server of alcoholic beverages. Idaho's Dram Shop Act provides in part:

23-808. Legislative finding and intent—Cause of action.—
(1) The legislature finds that it is not the furnishing of alcoholic beverages that is the proximate cause of injuries inflicted by intoxicated persons and it is the intent of the legislature, therefore, to limit dram shop and social host liability; provided, that the legislature finds that the furnishing of alcoholic beverages may constitute a proximate cause of injuries inflicted by intoxicated persons under the circumstances set forth in subsection (3) of this section.
(2) No claim or cause of action may be brought by or on behalf of any person who has suffered injury, death or other damage caused by an intoxicated person against any person who sold or otherwise furnished alcoholic beverages to the intoxicated person, except as provided in subsection (3) of this section.
(3) A person who has suffered injury, death or any other damage caused by an intoxicated person, may bring a claim or cause of action against any person who sold or otherwise furnished alcoholic beverages to the intoxicated person, only if:
(a) The intoxicated person was younger than the legal age for the consumption of alcoholic beverages at the time the alcoholic beverages were sold or furnished and the person who sold or furnished the alcoholic beverages knew or ought reasonably to have known at the time the alcoholic beverages were sold or furnished that the intoxicated person was younger than the legal age for consumption of the alcoholic beverages; or
(b) The intoxicated person was obviously intoxicated at the time the alcoholic beverages were sold or furnished, and the person who sold or furnished the alcoholic beverages knew or ought reasonably to have known that the intoxicated person was obviously intoxicated.
(4)(a) No claim or cause of action pursuant to subsection (3) of this section shall lie on behalf of the intoxicated person nor on behalf of the intoxicated person's estate or representatives.

I.C. § 23-808.

The district court correctly held that the unambiguous language of I.C. § 23-808(4)(a) prevents Coghlan from recovering from the providers of alcohol in this case. See Wolfe v. Farm Bureau Ins. Co., 128 Idaho 398, 404, 913 P.2d 1168, 1174 (1996) (where statutory language is clear and unambiguous, the Court must give effect to the clear, explicit intent of the legislature and does not engage in statutory construction). Appellants do not challenge the district court's interpretation of the plain meaning of the statute, but instead challenge the constitutionality of I.C. § 23-808 on various grounds.

1. I.C. § 23-808(4)(a) does not violate the equal protection guarantees of the Idaho and United States Constitutions.

Appellants first argue that applying I.C. § 23-808(4)(a) to permit recovery by third parties, but not intoxicated persons, is a classification which violates the equal protection guarantees of the...

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