Ewing v. Cloverleaf Bowl, S.F. 23593

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtTOBRINER; BIRD; CLARK
Citation143 Cal.Rptr. 13,20 Cal.3d 389
Docket NumberS.F. 23593
Decision Date06 January 1978
Parties, 572 P.2d 1155 Robert A. EWING, a minor, etc., et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CLOVERLEAF BOWL, Defendant and Respondent

Page 13

143 Cal.Rptr. 13
20 Cal.3d 389, 572 P.2d 1155
Robert A. EWING, a minor, etc., et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
CLOVERLEAF BOWL, Defendant and Respondent.
S.F. 23593.
Supreme Court of California
Jan. 6, 1978.

[20 Cal.3d 394]

Page 15

[572 P.2d 1156] Bruce I. Cornblum, San Diego, and Charles McCrory, Palo Alto, for plaintiffs and appellants.

Allan F. Grossman, Judith Ilene Bloom, Encino, Rosen, Rosen & Leavitt and Alan Dodd Rosen, Los Angeles, as amici curiae on behalf of plaintiffs and appellants.

Woodrow W. Kitchel and Richard G. Logan, Oakland, for defendant and respondent.

Raoul D. Kennedy, Mike C. Buckley, Oakland, and Stevan C. Kalmon, Berkeley, as amici curiae on behalf of defendant and respondent.

TOBRINER, Justice.

In this case, an experienced bartender, knowing that a patron had just turned 21 years of age that very day, served his young customer 10 straight shots of 151 proof rum, as well as a vodka collins and 2 beer chasers, during a period of less than an hour and a half; as a result, the 21-year-old patron died the next day, leaving 2 small children on whose behalf the instant wrongful death action was brought.

Faced with these undisputed facts, the trial court granted defendant's motion for nonsuit, finding as a matter of law, that the patron's conduct amounted to contributory negligence and that the bartender's conduct did not constitute willful misconduct. We shall explain that this ruling represents an illogical and unwarranted limitation of this court's holding in Vesely v. Sager (1971) 5 Cal.3d 153, 95 Cal.Rptr. 623, 486 P.2d 151, and improperly immunizes a bartender from all responsibility for a [20 Cal.3d 395] senseless death that the jury could have found foreseeably flowed from the bartender's reckless conduct.

1. The facts in this case.

In this wrongful death action, Robert and Anthony Ewing, the sons of the decedent, Christopher Ewing, brought suit through their mother and guardian ad litem, Katherine Ewing, against Cloverleaf Bowl, a California corporation. At the close of plaintiffs' presentation of evidence, the trial court granted defendant's motion for nonsuit, dismissed the jury, and entered judgment for defendant. Plaintiffs appeal. 1

[572 P.2d 1157] In stating and assessing the facts in this case, we are guided by the traditional rule that a trial court may grant a defendant's motion for nonsuit only if plaintiffs' evidence would not support a jury verdict in plaintiffs' favor. (Pike v. Frank G. Hough Co. (1970) 2 Cal.3d 465, 469, 85 Cal.Rptr. 629, 467 P.2d 229; Elmore v. American Motors Corp. (1969) 70 Cal.2d 578, 583, 75 Cal.Rptr. 652, 451 P.2d 84; Estate of Caspar (1916) 172 Cal. 147, 150, 155 P. 631.) "(T)he evidence most favorable to (plaintiffs) must be accepted as true." (Taylor v. Centennial Bowl, Inc. (1966) 65 Cal.2d 114, 117, 52 Cal.Rptr. 561, 563, 416 P.2d 793, 795; see 4 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (2d ed. 1971) § 353, p. 3152.) Accordingly, we give "to the plaintiffs' evidence all the value to which it is legally entitled, . . . indulging every legitimate inference which may be drawn from the evidence in plaintiffs' favor. . . ." (Elmore v. American Motors Corp., supra.) We disregard "conflicting evidence" (Estate of Caspar, supra ), and inquire whether the evidence, if "viewed favorably to (plaintiffs') cause, was sufficient to support a jury verdict" in their favor. (Pike v. Frank G. Hough Co., supra.)

Bearing these guidelines in mind, we turn to the facts. Christopher Ewing celebrated his 21st birthday on April 13, 1971. Early that evening, Jerry Powers joined Chris and Lloyd Whitlock, fiance of Chris' sister Cindy, in the garage of Chris' parents. Jerry

Page 16

was then a parttime bartender at the Cloverleaf Bowl, a bowling alley in Fremont. Upon learning of Chris' birthday, Jerry suggested that the group go to the Cloverleaf Bowl, and offered to buy Chris a drink. Chris and Lloyd agreed. Jerry, Chris, and Lloyd, accompanied by Chris' sister Loretta [20 Cal.3d 396] and Jean Enos, a friend of Chris, accordingly left for the Cloverleaf Bowl, arriving somewhere between 8:30 and 9 p. m. 2

There were two bars at the Cloverleaf Bowl. The main bar was in the cocktail lounge, with tables capable of seating 150 people. A second bar, a "service" or "speed" bar, was located outside the cocktail lounge, primarily for the use of bowlers.

On the day of these events Richard Lamont was the only bartender on duty at the Cloverleaf Bowl. Lamont moved back and forth between the two bars. The one cocktail waitress on duty that night, Diane Kerr, recalls that the bowling and cocktail areas were not crowded.

Jerry Powers, Lloyd Whitlock, and Chris Ewing went immediately to the service bar upon arriving at the Cloverleaf Bowl. Loretta Ewing and Jean Enos, because they were not yet 21, did not go to the bar, but rather sat at a table about 10 feet from the bar. Jean Enos had a clear view of the bar from where she sat.

Lamont asked Chris for identification, and, upon discovering that it was Chris' birthday, gave him a vodka collins on the house. After drinking the collins, Chris said, "I'm twenty-one and I'm not even drunk." Jerry Powers replied, "I'll give you something that will make you drunk." Jerry told Lamont to give Chris the strongest drink in the house.

That drink was 151 proof rum. Most of the liquor which Lamont served at the Cloverleaf Bowl was either 86 or 100 proof alcohol. Lamont knew that the difference in proof reflected differences in alcohol content. 3 The Bowl stocked only one or two bottles of 151 proof rum. These were not kept at the service bar, but rather were stored behind the main bar. Lamont therefore had to leave the service bar to get the rum.

Lamont served Chris a shot glass of straight rum. Although a shot glass will hold one ounce of liquid, at the Cloverleaf Bowl, the shot glasses are marked with a white line at the seven-eighths of an ounce level. Ordinarily a bartender would only fill a shot glass up to the line. On this occasion, however, Lamont filled the glass to the brim.

[20 Cal.3d 397] [572 P.2d 1158] Before Chris drank the liquor, Lloyd warned him that it was a strong drink. Lamont also said it was a powerful drink. Chris, however, consumed the full shot immediately. Lamont poured another shot. Again, Chris drank the rum at once.

At this point, Diane Kerr, who was watching, attempted to intervene. After Chris drank the second shot, she addressed Jerry Powers: "Jerry, why don't you just wait a few minutes and he'll be drunk." Jerry replied: "It's just for fun. They do it to me all the time."

Jerry Powers had purchased Chris' first two drinks. Lloyd Whitlock bought a third round. Lamont again poured Chris a full ounce of rum. At the same time, however, he warned: "Chris, take it easy on this stuff. It's going to catch up with you and knock you for a loop." Chris drank the third round.

Jean Enos, from her vantage point at the table, had been watching these events with some concern. After finishing the three drinks, Chris came over to the table. Jean told Chris he'd better not get drunk because his mother wouldn't like it. Chris replied, "I'll be all right," and returned to the bar.

Jean watched Chris drink four more glasses of rum. Lamont served each drink. After he poured a shot of rum, he would remove the bottle from the bar; consequently, each time he poured a shot, he would first be required to remove the bottle from its shelf. When Chris next came over to the table, he told Jean he was getting

Page 17

drunk. Jean noticed that his eyes were glassy, his speech slurred, his face red. She said, "You'd better not do that." Again he said, "I'll be all right."

The Cloverleaf Bowl, as a matter of policy, would not serve patrons after they appeared to be intoxicated. Lamont knew of this policy. A sign posted by each cash register proclaimed it. Lamont nonetheless served Chris three more glasses of rum when Chris returned to the bar. 4

Chris' older brother Doug and his wife Debby stopped at the Cloverleaf Bowl around 10 p. m. They saw Chris standing at the service bar with Jerry. Chris, leaning on the bar, spilled a cup of dice; his speech was slurred, but seeing his brother, he told Lamont: "Let's have another one, one for me and one for my brother." Lamont reached down for a [20 Cal.3d 398] bottle. Doug interrupted: "No, he's had enough. He can't even stand up." Doug walked Chris over to the table. Chris passed out. Doug and Lloyd dragged him out of the Cloverleaf Bowl.

Doug and Lloyd put Chris in Jerry Powers' car. Jerry took Chris back to the home of his mother and stepfather. Jerry and Chris' stepfather carried Chris inside. Chris was unconscious. The next morning Chris' mother discovered that he was dead.

Dr. Allan McNie took a sample of Christopher Ewing's blood at the time of the autopsy. He found that the level of alcohol in the blood sample was .47 percent. As Dr. McNie subsequently testified, alcohol acts as a depressant on the central nervous system. If the level of alcohol in a person's blood exceeds .20 percent a casual observer will be able to detect signs that the person is drunk. If the level of alcohol is between .30 and .40 percent, the person will begin to become comatose. If the level of alcohol exceeds .42 percent, the person will die as a result of paralysis of the centers of the brain controlling heart rhythm and respiration. Dr. McNie concluded that Chris Ewing died of acute alcohol poisoning.

Dr. McNie calculated the amount of liquor Chris must have consumed in order to achieve an alcohol level of .47 percent. Taking into account Chris' weight, the amount of food he had eaten, and other factors, Dr. McNie found that Chris must have drunk 21.6 ounces of 86 proof liquor, 18.6 ounces of 100 proof liquor, or 11.2 ounces of 151 proof liquor.

Christopher Ewing's sons, in bringing this wrongful death action, charged the Cloverleaf Bowl with both negligence and willful [572 P.2d...

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79 practice notes
  • Pool v. City of Oakland, S.F. 24860
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 29, 1986
    ...Hospitals (1980) 27 Cal.3d 916, 923, 167 Cal.Rptr. 831, 616 P.2d 813 [hospital's duty to patient]; Ewing v. Cloverleaf Bowl (1978) 20 Cal.3d 389, 143 Cal.Rptr. 13, 572 P.2d 1155 [bartender's duty to bar patron]; Bullis v. Security Pac. Nat. Bank (1978) 21 Cal.3d 801, 813, 148 Cal.Rptr. 22, ......
  • Hacker v. City of Glendale, No. B047989
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 22, 1991
    ...v. Fifth Avenue Rental Service (1963) 60 Cal.2d 266, 270-271, 32 Cal.Rptr. 193, 383 P.2d 777; see also Ewing v. Cloverleaf Bowl (1978) 20 Cal.3d 389, 406, 143 Cal.Rptr. 13, 572 P.2d 1155; 6 Witkin, Summary of Cal.Law (9th ed. 1988) Torts, § 1106, p. Defendants' evidence in support of the mo......
  • Ward v. City of San Jose, No. C 87-20518 RPA.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • January 25, 1990
    ...This provision captures wrongful conduct ranging from negligence, through recklessness, to intentional tort. Ewing v. Cloverleaf Bowl, 20 Cal.3d 389, 143 Cal.Rptr. 13, 572 P.2d 1155...
  • Isaacs v. Huntington Memorial Hospital
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • February 28, 1985
    ...favor. (Campbell v. General Motors Corp. (1982) 32 Cal.3d 112, 117-118, 184 Cal.Rptr. 891, 649 P.2d 224; Ewing v. Cloverleaf Bowl (1978) 20 Cal.3d 389, 395, 143 Cal.Rptr. 13, 572 P.2d [38 Cal.3d 130] "In determining whether plaintiff's evidence is sufficient, the [trial] court may not weigh......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
79 cases
  • Pool v. City of Oakland, S.F. 24860
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 29, 1986
    ...Hospitals (1980) 27 Cal.3d 916, 923, 167 Cal.Rptr. 831, 616 P.2d 813 [hospital's duty to patient]; Ewing v. Cloverleaf Bowl (1978) 20 Cal.3d 389, 143 Cal.Rptr. 13, 572 P.2d 1155 [bartender's duty to bar patron]; Bullis v. Security Pac. Nat. Bank (1978) 21 Cal.3d 801, 813, 148 Cal.Rptr. 22, ......
  • Hacker v. City of Glendale, No. B047989
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 22, 1991
    ...v. Fifth Avenue Rental Service (1963) 60 Cal.2d 266, 270-271, 32 Cal.Rptr. 193, 383 P.2d 777; see also Ewing v. Cloverleaf Bowl (1978) 20 Cal.3d 389, 406, 143 Cal.Rptr. 13, 572 P.2d 1155; 6 Witkin, Summary of Cal.Law (9th ed. 1988) Torts, § 1106, p. Defendants' evidence in support of the mo......
  • Ward v. City of San Jose, No. C 87-20518 RPA.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • January 25, 1990
    ...This provision captures wrongful conduct ranging from negligence, through recklessness, to intentional tort. Ewing v. Cloverleaf Bowl, 20 Cal.3d 389, 143 Cal.Rptr. 13, 572 P.2d 1155...
  • Isaacs v. Huntington Memorial Hospital
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • February 28, 1985
    ...favor. (Campbell v. General Motors Corp. (1982) 32 Cal.3d 112, 117-118, 184 Cal.Rptr. 891, 649 P.2d 224; Ewing v. Cloverleaf Bowl (1978) 20 Cal.3d 389, 395, 143 Cal.Rptr. 13, 572 P.2d [38 Cal.3d 130] "In determining whether plaintiff's evidence is sufficient, the [trial] court may not weigh......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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