Hanouchian v. Steele

Decision Date04 June 2020
Docket NumberB291609
Citation51 Cal.App.5th 99,264 Cal.Rptr.3d 234
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties Karabette HANOUCHIAN, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Teagan STEELE et al., Defendants and Respondents.

The Pivtorak Law Firm and David Pivtorak, Oakland, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

The Safarian Firm, Harry A. Safarian, Glendale, Christina S. Karayan ; Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland and Robert A. Olson, Los Angeles, for Defendants and Respondents Teagan Steele and Lindsay Kusumoto.

Hartsuyker, Stratman & Williams-Abrego, Matthew Saunders ; Veatch Carlson and Serena L. Nervez, Laguna Hills, for Defendant and Respondent Reena Villamater.

Daniels, Fine, Israel, Schonbuch & Lebovits, Erin O. Hallissy, Los Angeles, and Jonathan R. Gerberfor Defendant and Respondent Autumn Hooks.



Respondents Teagan Steele, Reena Villamater, Autumn Hooks, and Lindsay Kusumoto are members of the Phi Mu sorority at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Plaintiff Karabette Hanouchian went to a Phi Mu party that Respondents hosted at their off-campus residence. He was attacked suddenly, and without provocation, by two other men at the party. Plaintiff sued Respondents, asserting a claim for negligence based on their alleged failure to follow certain risk management protocols adopted by CSUN and its fraternal organizations pertaining to off-campus events.1 The trial court sustained Respondentsdemurrers and entered a judgment of dismissal, concluding Respondents did not owe Plaintiff a legal duty to follow the CSUN protocols. We affirm.


Consistent with the applicable standard of review, we draw our statement of facts from the allegations of plaintiff's operative first amended complaint and other matters properly subject to judicial notice.2 ( Orange Unified School Dist. v. Rancho Santiago Community College Dist. (1997) 54 Cal.App.4th 750, 764, 62 Cal.Rptr.2d 778 ; Stevenson v. Superior Court (1997) 16 Cal.4th 880, 885, 66 Cal.Rptr.2d 888, 941 P.2d 1157.) "[W]e treat as true all material facts properly pleaded, but not contentions, deductions or conclusions of fact or law." ( Freeman v. San Diego Assn. of Realtors (1999) 77 Cal.App.4th 171, 178, fn. 3, 91 Cal.Rptr.2d 534.)

According to the allegations of the operative first amended complaint, CSUN and its fraternal organizations jointly developed rules and guidelines governing fraternity and sorority events to respond to past incidents of violent physical brawls, assaults, and sexual misconduct at events that had open guest lists, unlimited alcohol, and no security. Those rules require sororities hosting an off-campus event to: register the event with CSUN; submit and receive approval of a guest list; screen people entering the event, including attendees who are visibly intoxicated; limit the amount and type of alcohol provided; provide adequate security arrangements, including spot-checks by university police; and comply with "established risk management policies." Specifically, those risk management policies, as set forth in a "New Member Handbook" for CSUN fraternal organizations, prohibit "OPEN PARTIES, meaning those with unrestricted access by nonmembers of the fraternity, without specific invitation, where alcohol is present."

Under CSUN's recruitment, intake, and new member procedures for recognized fraternal organizations, all prospective recruits and potential new members must complete a pre-recruitment education program offered by the school, and all active chapters must "complete an annual educational program that includes but is not limited to: risk management, anti-hazing policies, Title IX requirements, campus resources, and recruitment strategies." The complaint alleges that, as a recognized sorority at CSUN, Phi Mu and its members, including Respondents, were "charged with the responsibility of knowing and following the University Guidelines regarding fraternal organizations."

On June 6, 2015, Phi Mu hosted an "open party" at an off-campus residence "in the possession and control" of Respondents. The complaint alleges the party was a "sorority event," "sanctioned by and held for the benefit of" Phi Mu. It further alleges the party was "thrown in violation of the CSUN fraternal organization guidelines and safety procedures. Specifically, the Party was not registered with the University; [Respondents] did not submit or receive approval of a guest-list for the Party; [Respondents] failed to provide adequate screening for people entering the Party, including individuals who were visibly intoxicated; [Respondents] gave guests, including minors, unlimited access to alcohol; and [Respondents] failed to provide adequate security arrangements and risk management arrangements."

A friend invited Plaintiff to the party. When he arrived, Plaintiff "observed it to be an open party associated with" Phi Mu. He alleges, there "was no one at the door checking ID's or controlling who went in and out of the Property; there was no security present; of the approximately 100 people at the Party, the majority were associated with [Phi Mu]; [and] many people at the party were openly taking or consuming illegal drugs."

Two other men, Greg Cuoco and Tyler Mackay, were also at the party that evening. Mackay and Cuoco had not been invited to the party, but they allegedly "were able to get in because it was an open party." They were "not students at CSUN at the time of the Party."

Plaintiff alleges Mackay and Cuoco were "partying heavily at the event and were looking to start a fight." While Plaintiff was having a conversation with a friend, Mackay "suddenly, and without any provocation," grabbed Plaintiff. Cuoco then "blindsided Plaintiff with a sucker-punch," causing Plaintiff to fall to the ground. While Plaintiff was down, Cuoco "struck Plaintiff with a glass bottle on the left side of his face," puncturing his left eye. After the assault, while Plaintiff was "bleeding profusely," Respondent Kusumoto "approached Plaintiff aggressively and screamed at him to ‘Get the f—out of my house!’ " Several people then pushed Plaintiff out into the street. A surgeon had to remove Plaintiff's entire iris to save his left eye. He has undergone multiple surgeries and is permanently scarred from the attack.

Plaintiff sued Respondents asserting a claim for negligence. He alleged Respondents were "aware of past violent incidents at CSUN fraternal organization events" and they "owed statutory, common law, and assumed duties to protect Plaintiff from foreseeable risk of harm resulting from sorority-related events and activities that violated CSUN's fraternal organization safety protocols and risk management procedures." Respondents allegedly breached this duty by "intentionally throwing the Party in direct violation of the rules and guidelines which they themselves established and were required to follow."

Respondents filed separate demurrers, arguing Plaintiff failed to state a legal claim for relief because (1) Respondents did not owe him the legal duty alleged, and (2) Respondents were immune from liability under the social host immunity provision of Civil Code section 1714 for injuries inflicted by Cuoco and Mackay, who were intoxicated at the time of the attack. (See Civ. Code, § 1714, subd. (c) ["Except as provided in subdivision (d), no social host who furnishes alcoholic beverages to any person may be held legally accountable for damages suffered by that person, or for injury to the person or property of, or death of, any third person, resulting from the consumption of those beverages."]; see also, id., subd. (b) ["the furnishing of alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication, but rather the consumption of alcoholic beverages is the proximate cause of injuries inflicted upon another by an intoxicated person"].)3

The trial court sustained Respondent Steele's demurrer without leave to amend, concluding Steele "did not assume a duty to Plaintiff Hanouchian to prevent the alleged criminal acts of Defendants Mackay and Cuoco." After the court entered an order sustaining Respondent Villamater's demurrer on the same ground, Plaintiff and Respondents entered into a stipulation acknowledging the operative complaint's allegations were "identical and therefore present the same legal questions" as to each Respondent and, thus, judgment should be entered in favor of all Respondents to conserve judicial resources and facilitate an appeal. The trial court entered a judgment for all Respondents in accordance with the stipulation. Plaintiff timely appealed.

1. Standard of Review

We review a judgment of dismissal after an order sustaining a demurrer de novo, exercising our independent judgment about whether the complaint states a cause of action as a matter of law. ( Los Altos El Granada Investors v. City of Capitola (2006) 139 Cal.App.4th 629, 650, 43 Cal.Rptr.3d 434.) We "assume the truth of all facts properly pleaded by the plaintiffs, as well as those that are judicially noticeable." ( Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. v. City of La Habra (2001) 25 Cal.4th 809, 814, 107 Cal.Rptr.2d 369, 23 P.3d 601.) "We may affirm on any basis stated in the demurrer, regardless of the ground on which the trial court based its ruling." ( Krolikowski v. San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System (2018) 24 Cal.App.5th 537, 549, 234 Cal.Rptr.3d 499 ; Carman v. Alvord (1982) 31 Cal.3d 318, 324, 182 Cal.Rptr. 506, 644 P.2d 192.)

When the trial court denies leave to amend, "we also must decide whether there is a reasonable possibility that the defect can be cured by amendment." ( Koszdin v. State Comp. Ins. Fund (2010) 186 Cal.App.4th 480, 487, 112 Cal.Rptr.3d 494.) "The plaintiff bears the burden of proving there is a reasonable possibility of amendment. [Citation.] ... [¶] To satisfy that burden on appeal, a plaintiff ‘must show in what manner he can amend his complaint and how that amendment will change the legal...

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  • HG Doe v. Roman Catholic Archbishop of L. A.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • October 20, 2021
    ...145, 113 P.3d 1159 ; see Castaneda v. Olsher (2007) 41 Cal.4th 1205, 1222, 63 Cal.Rptr.3d 99, 162 P.3d 610 ; Hanouchian v. Steele (2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 99, 109, 264 Cal.Rptr.3d 234.) The heightened foreseeability standard does not apply in the circumstances here.8 Certainty . "The second fa......
  • Golick v. State
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • September 8, 2022
    ...risk of harm does not satisfy the element of increased risk required to establish a negligent undertaking. ( Hanouchian v. Steele (2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 99, 115, 264 Cal.Rptr.3d 234 ; Paz , supra , 22 Cal.4th at p. 560, 93 Cal.Rptr.2d 703, 994 P.2d 975.) Nor should we be distracted by the qu......
  • Golick v. State
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • September 8, 2022
    ...risk of harm does not satisfy the element of increased risk required to establish a negligent undertaking. (Hanouchian v. Steele (2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 99, 115; Paz, supra, 22 Cal.4th at p. 560.) Nor should we be distracted by the question of whether Lombardi placed the hostages at risk of b......
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    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books California Causes of Action
    • March 31, 2022
    ...App. 5th 70. Hosts of off-campus sorority party had no duty to prevent criminal attack from non-student. Hanouchian v. Steele (2020) 51 Cal. App. 5th 99. Bus company had no duty to warn passengers of a DVT. Mejia v. Greyhound Lines, Inc. (2017) 698 Fed. Appx. 540. YMCA has no statutory or c......

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