Coulter v. Superior Court, S.F. 23667

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtRICHARDSON; MOSK; BIRD; NEWMAN; CLARK
Citation145 Cal.Rptr. 534,577 P.2d 669,21 Cal.3d 144
Parties, 577 P.2d 669 James Stewart COULTER et al., Petitioners, v. The SUPERIOR COURT OF SAN MATEO COUNTY, Respondent; SCHWARTZ & REYNOLDS & CO. et al., Real Parties in Interest
Decision Date26 April 1978
Docket NumberS.F. 23667

Page 534

145 Cal.Rptr. 534
21 Cal.3d 144, 577 P.2d 669
James Stewart COULTER et al., Petitioners,
v.
The SUPERIOR COURT OF SAN MATEO COUNTY, Respondent;
SCHWARTZ & REYNOLDS & CO. et al., Real Parties in Interest.
S.F. 23667.
Supreme Court of California
April 26, 1978.

[21 Cal.3d 147]

Page 535

[577 P.2d 670] Dahl, Hefner, Stark & Marois, C. Afton Moore, III, Sacramento, and Judy R. Campos, Davis, for petitioners.

No appearance for respondent.

Thornton, Taylor & Downs and Jerome F. Downs, San Francisco, for real parties in interest.

RICHARDSON, Justice.

We consider whether the noncommercial suppliers of alcoholic beverages may be liable to third persons injured by reason of the intoxication of the consumer of those beverages. We will conclude that a social host who furnishes alcoholic beverages to an obviously intoxicated person, under circumstances which create a reasonably foreseeable risk of harm to others, may be held legally accountable to those third persons who are injured when that harm occurs. We examine the pleading posture of the case, trace the evolution of civil liability imposed on those who furnish intoxicating liquors, and discuss the reasons for our adoption of the foregoing principle.

[577 P.2d 671] In the first cause of action of his complaint, plaintiff James Coulter alleged that

Page 536

he was injured when the car in which he was riding as a passenger collided with roadway abutments in San Mateo County. James' wife, plaintiff Deborah Coulter, joined in the action with her husband, claiming, as damages, the loss of consortium with James, and the value of nursing services furnished to him. It is alleged that at the [21 Cal.3d 148] time of the accident, the car was being driven by Janice Williams, whose intoxication caused both the accident and James' injuries.

Plaintiffs further alleged that before the accident defendant Schwartz & Reynolds & Co., the owner and operator of an apartment complex in Foster City, San Mateo County, and defendant Monte Montgomery, the apartment manager, negligently and carelessly served to Williams, in a recreation room in the complex, "extremely large quantities" of alcoholic beverages; that defendants knew or should have known that Williams was becoming "excessively intoxicated"; that defendants knew or should have known that Williams "customarily drank to excess" and was "incapable of exercising the same degree of volitional control over her consumption of alcoholic beverages as the average reasonable person"; that defendants knew that Williams intended to drive a motor vehicle following her consumption of the alcoholic beverages furnished by defendants; and that defendants knew or should have known that their conduct would expose third persons such as plaintiffs to "foreseeable serious risk of harm."

The second cause of action, substantially identical to the first, omitted the allegation that the defendants actually "furnished" Williams with alcoholic beverages, but charged that defendant Schwartz & Reynolds & Co. "permitted" Williams to be served alcoholic beverages on their premises, and that defendant Montgomery had "aided, abetted, participated (in) and encouraged" Williams to drink to excess. The third and fourth causes of action are not at issue herein.

Defendants' demurrers to the first and second causes of action were sustained without leave to amend. Plaintiffs seek mandate from us to compel the trial court to overrule the demurrers and proceed to trial on all causes of action. While we have generally been reluctant to extend extraordinary relief at the pleading stage (Babb v. Superior Court (1971), 3 Cal.3d 841, 851, 92 Cal.Rptr. 179, 479 P.2d 379; Oceanside Union School Dist. v. Superior Court (1962), 58 Cal.2d 180, 185, fn. 4, 23 Cal.Rptr. 375, fn. 4, 373 P.2d 439, fn. 4), we have said that mandamus will lie when it appears that the trial court has deprived a party of an opportunity to plead his cause of action or defense, and when that extraordinary relief may prevent a needless and expensive trial and reversal (Holtz v. Superior Court (1970) 3 Cal.3d 296, 301, fn. 4, 90 Cal.Rptr. 345, fn. 4, 475 P.2d 441, fn. 4). In the matter before us mandamus is available as a remedy and we inquire into the propriety of the trial court's ruling.

[21 Cal.3d 149] Before 1971, California case law had uniformly held that one who furnished alcoholic beverages to another person was not liable for damages resulting from the latter's intoxication. (E. g., Cole v. Rush (1955), 45 Cal.2d 345, 289 P.2d 450.) Our courts reasoned that "it is the voluntary consumption, not the sale or gift, of intoxicating liquor which is the proximate cause of injury from its use . . . ." (Id., at p. 356, 289 P.2d at p. 457.) In Vesely v. Sager (1971), 5 Cal.3d 153, 95 Cal.Rptr. 623, 486 P.2d 151, however, we reconsidered our earlier position and concluded that, as to commercial vendors, liability would be imposed in appropriate cases for injuries occasioned to third parties by the consumer of liquor. Examining more closely the proximate cause issue, we concluded in Vesely that "(I)t is clear that the furnishing of an alcoholic beverage to an intoxicated person may be a proximate cause of injuries inflicted by that individual upon a third person. If such furnishing is a proximate cause, it is so because the consumption, resulting intoxication, and injury-producing conduct are foreseeable intervening causes, or at least [577 P.2d 672] the injury-producing conduct is one of the hazards which makes such furnishing negligent."

Page 537

(Id., at p. 164, 95 Cal.Rptr. at p. 631, 486 P.2d at p. 159.)

Moreover, in Vesely we declared that the tavern-owner defendant owed a duty of reasonable care to members of the public by reason of a provision of the Business and Professions Code (all statutory references are to that code unless otherwise cited). We explained that because section 25602 was enacted to protect members of the general public from injuries to person and damage to property resulting from the excessive use of intoxicating liquor, a presumption of negligence arises whenever its provisions are violated. (5 Cal.3d at pp. 164-165, 95 Cal.Rptr. 623, 486 P.2d 151; see Evid.Code, § 669.)

In Vesely, we further expressly reserved the question "whether a noncommercial furnisher of alcoholic beverages may be subject to civil liability under section 25602 . . . ." (5 Cal.3d at p. 157, 95 Cal.Rptr. at p. 625, 486 P.2d at p. 153.) That question is now before us and, although defendants herein urge us to confine application of the Vesely rule to commercial vendors, we see no reasonable or logical basis for doing so. As will appear, section 25602 is not limited by its terms to persons who furnish liquor to others for profit. Furthermore, well established general negligence principles lead us to conclude, independently of statute, that a social host or other noncommercial provider of alcoholic beverages owes to the general public a duty to refuse to furnish such beverages to an obviously intoxicated person if, under the circumstances, such person thereby constitutes a reasonably [21 Cal.3d 150] foreseeable danger or risk of injury to third persons. We examine more closely the statutory and common law bases for our conclusion.

1. Business and Professions Code Section 25602

Section 25602 provides, that "Every person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage to . . . any obviously intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor." (Italics added.) Referring as it does to "every person," the section on its face appears to apply to both commercial and noncommercial suppliers of alcoholic beverages. Although it might be urged that the placement of section 25602 in the Business and Professions Code suggests a legislative intent to confine the section's application to the commercial sellers of liquor only, thus excluding social hosts, other sections of the same code belie any such intent. For example, unlike section 25602, the immediately preceding section, 25601, contains specified restrictions imposed upon activities of a "licensee" as opposed to any "person." Section 23008 defines "person" as including "any individual, firm, copartnership, (etc.) . . ." whereas section 23009 defines "licensee" as "any person holding a license issued by the department." (Italics added.) Since all commercial vendors of alcoholic beverages in this state must be licensed (see § 23300 et seq.), the use of the broader term "person" in section 25602 strongly suggests that the latter section must have been intended to apply whether or not the supplier of such beverages was engaged in commercial, and therefore licensed, activities.

The foregoing conclusion is further confirmed by other immediately succeeding sections of the code which, for example, make it unlawful for every or any "person" (1) to bring alcoholic beverages onto prison grounds (§ 25603), (2) to maintain unlicensed premises (§ 25604), (3) to transport alcoholic beverages subject to seizure (§ 25606), or (4) to possess, consume, sell, give away or deliver any such beverages on public school grounds (§ 25608). It seems very clear that the Legislature did not intend that application of these companion sections be restricted to commercial vendors or suppliers. We hold, accordingly, that the term "person" within the meaning of section 25602 is not limited to those who are commercial suppliers, but includes those who are social hosts as well.

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  • Verdugo v. Target Corp., No. 10–57008.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 28, 2014
    ...of Cal., Inc. v. Superior Court (1997) 14 Cal.4th 814, 822–824, 59 Cal.Rptr.2d 756, 927 P.2d 1260; Coulter v. Superior Court (1978) 21 Cal.3d 144, 152–154, 145 Cal.Rptr. 534, 577 P.2d 669.) Under the common law, the existence and scope of an individual's or entity's common law duty of reaso......
  • Verdugo v. Target Corp., No. 10–57008.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 28, 2014
    ...of Cal., Inc. v. Superior Court (1997) 14 Cal.4th 814, 822–824, 59 Cal.Rptr.2d 756, 927 P.2d 1260 ; Coulter v. Superior Court (1978) 21 Cal.3d 144, 152–154, 145 Cal.Rptr. 534, 577 P.2d 669.) Under the common law, the existence and scope of an individual's or entity's common law duty of reas......
  • Jackson v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., No. C013093
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 12, 1993
    ...death caused by other drivers. In particular, intoxicated drivers are to be expected late at night. (See Coulter v. Superior Court (1978) 21 Cal.3d 144, 154 [145 Cal.Rptr. 534, 577 P.2d 669]; Bigbee v. Pacific Tel. & Tel. Co. (1983) 34 Cal.3d 49, 58 [192 Cal.Rptr. 857, 665 P.2d 947].) It is......
  • Becker v. IRM Corp.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • June 24, 1983
    ...128 Cal.Rptr. 404.) And, we repeat, as in all cases, foreseeability is the key factor to be considered. (Coulter v. Superior Court (1978) 21 Cal.3d 144, 152, 145 Cal.Rptr. 534, 577 P.2d 669; Riley, supra, at p. 109, 177 Cal.Rptr. 827.) Consequently, we must decide whether the unsafe nature ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
143 cases
  • Verdugo v. Target Corp., No. 10–57008.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 28, 2014
    ...of Cal., Inc. v. Superior Court (1997) 14 Cal.4th 814, 822–824, 59 Cal.Rptr.2d 756, 927 P.2d 1260; Coulter v. Superior Court (1978) 21 Cal.3d 144, 152–154, 145 Cal.Rptr. 534, 577 P.2d 669.) Under the common law, the existence and scope of an individual's or entity's common law duty of reaso......
  • Verdugo v. Target Corp., No. 10–57008.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 28, 2014
    ...of Cal., Inc. v. Superior Court (1997) 14 Cal.4th 814, 822–824, 59 Cal.Rptr.2d 756, 927 P.2d 1260 ; Coulter v. Superior Court (1978) 21 Cal.3d 144, 152–154, 145 Cal.Rptr. 534, 577 P.2d 669.) Under the common law, the existence and scope of an individual's or entity's common law duty of reas......
  • Jackson v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., No. C013093
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 12, 1993
    ...death caused by other drivers. In particular, intoxicated drivers are to be expected late at night. (See Coulter v. Superior Court (1978) 21 Cal.3d 144, 154 [145 Cal.Rptr. 534, 577 P.2d 669]; Bigbee v. Pacific Tel. & Tel. Co. (1983) 34 Cal.3d 49, 58 [192 Cal.Rptr. 857, 665 P.2d 947].) It is......
  • Becker v. IRM Corp.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • June 24, 1983
    ...128 Cal.Rptr. 404.) And, we repeat, as in all cases, foreseeability is the key factor to be considered. (Coulter v. Superior Court (1978) 21 Cal.3d 144, 152, 145 Cal.Rptr. 534, 577 P.2d 669; Riley, supra, at p. 109, 177 Cal.Rptr. 827.) Consequently, we must decide whether the unsafe nature ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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