Martin v. Watts

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Citation513 So.2d 958
PartiesKerri M. MARTIN, Ricky J. Martin, and April Kelli Hazelrig v. Richard P. WATTS and Huntsville Jaycees, Inc. 84-1007.
Decision Date10 April 1987

Charles C. King and Charles A. Sullins, Huntsville, and Francis H. Hare, Jr., and D. Leon Ashford of Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, Birmingham, for appellants.

E. Cutter Hughes, Jr., and H. Harold Stephens of Lanier, Shaver & Herring, Huntsville, for appellee Richard P. Watts.

Don G. DeCoudres, Birmingham, for appellee Huntsville Jaycees, Inc.


This is an appeal from a summary judgment made final pursuant to Rule 54(b), A.R.Civ.P. Defendants, Richard Watts, David Worley, and Huntsville Jaycees, Inc. ("Jaycees"), were alleged to have participated in sponsoring or to have assisted in sponsoring a party at which alcoholic beverages were provided to minors.

Two of the minors became intoxicated and caused an automobile accident in which plaintiffs were injured and another person was killed. The plaintiffs brought an action for damages against these defendants and others. Settlements have been reached with some of the original defendants, while others have been dismissed.

Defendants Watts and Jaycees filed motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment. The lower court denied the motions to dismiss. In considering the motions for summary judgment, the trial court addressed two issues: First, whether an action for damages under the Alabama Dram Shop Act could be brought against either the Huntsville Jaycees or Watts, and second, whether an action founded upon common law negligence principles would lie against either defendant? Judge Smith, in a lengthy and scholarly order which traces

the history of legislation affecting alcoholic beverages in this state, held that an action will not lie on either theory and granted summary judgment for Watts and the Jaycees

The following facts are taken from Judge Smith's order.

The Huntsville Jaycees, Inc.

The Huntsville Jaycees, Inc., is a service organization created to benefit and improve the city of Huntsville. According to 11 World Book Encyclopedia 51 (1976),

"Jaycees are organizations that stress individual development through leadership training and civic involvement.... Jaycees learn to be leaders by working in community improvement programs. They sponsor programs on youth development, government affairs, health, safety, and international relations."

Included among the many community programs which the Huntsville Jaycees conducted was its sponsorship of the Huntsville High School Junior Jaycees.

The Huntsville High School Junior Jaycees

The Huntsville High School Junior Jaycees ("HHS Jr. Jaycees") is a high school service and social club. The members must be enrolled in Huntsville High School, have completed their sophomore year, and be at least sixteen years old. The following boys were officers of the HHS Jr. Jaycees during the 1981-82 school year: President: John Watts (son of defendant Richard Watts); Vice President: Drew Crow; Secretary: David Vest; and Treasurer: Wes Neighbors (son of William W. "Billy" Neighbors, Jr.). These boys were responsible for planning and preparing the party where the alcoholic beverages were consumed.

Mrs. Sandra Norton was the school faculty sponsor; however, she took no part in the affairs of the club. According to testimony, she was "just a name used by the club to comply with the stated school policy."

David Worley

David Worley is an attorney. He is associated with the Huntsville Jaycees, Inc., and served as "sponsor" for the HHS Jr. Jaycees chapter. In that capacity, he served as liaison between the two organizations and coordinator of their joint activities. To perform those duties, Worley attended meetings of both clubs.

Richard Watts

Richard Watts is the father of John Watts, the president of the HHS Jr. Jaycees. He and his wife, Jean Watts, are part owners of a lake cabin where this party was held.

The Party

Each year for a number of years, the HHS Jr. Jaycees had held "a big social event" for the club members and their invited friends. Thus, at one of the last club meetings during the 1980-81 school year, the members discussed party plans. Someone suggested a place where the beer might be purchased, but Worley, who was present, stated that he could get the club "a special deal." According to deposition testimony of Wes Neighbors,

"[Worley] said we could get it for nine dollars a case, so we decided on thirty cases of beer."

On Friday, May 15, 1981, following the end of classes for the day, Neighbors drove with David Vest to the law office of Worley with a check drawn on the "Huntsville High School Imprest Account" and made payable to Wes Neighbors. Neighbors endorsed the check and gave it to Worley. He and David Vest then followed Worley to Turner Beverage Company. Worley also endorsed the check, and handed it to Tully Turner, owner of the beverage company. Half-cases of beer were loaded by the boys and employees of the beverage company into the trunks of Vest's and Worley's automobiles. Next, they proceeded to the residence of Worley, where they stored the beer on Worley's back porch.

The following morning, Saturday, May 16, 1981, Neighbors and Vest returned to Worley's home. They loaded the beer into a pick-up truck and covered it with tarpaulins.

After meeting fellow club members John Watts and George Mahoney, they transported the beer from Huntsville to the cabin on Guntersville Lake in Marshall County

When the four boys arrived at the Watts cabin, around noon, they iced the beer down in six coolers. John Watts had obtained these coolers from a building owned by the Jaycees. 1 Soon other HHS Jr. Jaycees and their guests began to arrive. During the early part of the afternoon, there was little or no control over access to the beer. Anyone could walk up to the coolers and help himself to as much as he desired. According to Neighbors, just about everybody who attended the party "was pretty much intoxicated." He described the party as "wild, a melee." Four young people passed out totally and had to be placed on beds in the Watts cabin. Many more were not capable of safely operating a motor vehicle.

Adults present during the party were: Billy Neighbors, the father of Wes Neighbors; Richard Watts, owner of the cabin and father of club president John Watts; and David Worley, who attended the party in his capacity as club "sponsor." Around 3:30 p.m., Billy Neighbors decided that things were getting out of hand; he and Richard Watts called a halt to the party. Richard Watts told the boys to load the beer back into the pick-up truck. Warren Bradford, age 18, was one of the boys who became intoxicated. Billy Neighbors told John Watts to remove the ignition keys from Bradford's vehicle. The keys were given to Bradford's companion, Mark Pullen, age 17. Pullen was told that he was to drive the vehicle back to Huntsville.

Pullen and Bradford left around 4 or 4:30 p.m., with Pullen driving. After they left, Bradford demanded forcefully that Pullen let him drive the car. Pullen stopped the vehicle and the boys changed positions.

Just after they had crested Monte Sano Mountain, and were on their way down into the city proper, "moving to the [beat of the] music" playing on the car's stereo, laughing, and "in a good mood," Bradford lost control of the vehicle. It skidded across his two lanes, across a wide, grassy median separating the lanes of traffic, and into the path of plaintiffs' on-coming vehicle.

Neither Pullen nor Bradford was injured very badly. However, the driver of the other car, Georgia L. Hazelrig, was killed. Her two daughters, Kerri Martin and April Hazelrig, were gravely injured.


Appellants argue that the appellees should be amenable to suit because appellees created and controlled a dangerous and foreseeable risk of harm. They contend that Judge Smith erred in holding as a matter of law that there was no cause of action which would lie against these defendants for their part in promoting a party at which alcoholic beverages were served to minors.

The essential element underpinning Judge Smith's order is an assumption that there can be no right of action against a noncommercial supplier of alcoholic beverages. Appellees go one step further and argue that to hold otherwise would amount to a social host liability. At the outset, a very important distinction should be made. The facts of this case do not require us to consider social host liability. Here we are concerned only with the providing of alcoholic beverages by adults to minor school children, which is a clear violation of law.


Appellants contend that they should have been allowed to proceed under Code 1975, § 6-5-71(a), Alabama's Dram Shop Act. Appellees contend that this section does not pertain to dispensing outside of the commercial setting.

The relevant portion of the Dram Shop Act provides:

"Every wife, child, parent or other person who shall be injured in person, property or means of support by an intoxicated person or in consequence of the intoxication of any person shall have a right of action against any person who shall by selling, giving or otherwise disposing of to another, contrary to the provisions of law, any liquors or beverages, cause the intoxication of such person for all damages actually sustained, as well as exemplary damages."

Code 1975, § 6-5-71(a). Whether an action will lie under this section depends upon a statutory construction of two of the operative terms of the Act. We must determine the effect of the phrases "selling, giving or otherwise disposing of" and "contrary to the provisions of law". Section (a) of the statute contains a compound subject, modified by a dependent clause, and a predicate, modified by a series of prepositional phrases and a dependent clause. Stripped of their modifiers the subject is "every wife, child, parent, or other...

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