Reynolds v. Hicks, 64632-5

Citation134 Wn.2d 491,951 P.2d 761
Decision Date26 February 1998
Docket NumberNo. 64632-5,64632-5
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
PartiesTimmy R. REYNOLDS, JoDee Reynolds, and JoDee Reynolds as Guardian ad Litem for Matthew Reynolds, Andrew Reynolds, and Weslee Reynolds, Appellants, v. Steven J. HICKS, Dianne M. Hicks, Defendants, Jamie Hicks and Anna Hicks, individually and the marital community composed of Jamie Hicks and Anna Hicks, Respondents, and Does III through V, Defendants.

In December, 1993, Jamie and Anna Hicks filed a motion for summary judgment on two separate grounds. First, they sought a dismissal arguing that Washington law does not extend social host liability for furnishing alcohol to a minor to third persons injured by the intoxicated minor. Second, they stated that assuming Washington does extend Judge James Bates of the King County Superior Court granted the Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the first issue, finding that the Defendant social hosts did not owe a duty to third parties injured by the intoxicated minor. Judge Bates reserved the second claim for consideration. Subsequently, Judge Richard D. Eadie entered an order granting Defendants' second motion and all claims were dismissed against Jamie and Anna Hicks. Plaintiffs appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals certified the case to this court and direct review was granted pursuant to RCW 2.06.030.

social host liability to third persons, the minor in this case was not "obviously intoxicated" at the time he was served alcohol. CP at 532.


When reviewing a summary judgment order, an appellate court engages in the same inquiry as the trial court. See Mutual of Enumclaw Ins. Co. v. Jerome, 122 Wash.2d 157, 160, 856 P.2d 1095 (1993); Wilson v. Steinbach, 98 Wash.2d 434, 437, 656 P.2d 1030 (1982). Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CR 56(c); Mutual of Enumclaw, 122 Wash.2d at 160, 856 P.2d 1095. The motion will be granted, after considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, only if reasonable persons could reach but one conclusion. See Wilson, 98 Wash.2d at 437, 656 P.2d 1030.

In order to prove an actionable claim for negligence, the plaintiff must show (1) the existence of a duty to the complaining party, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) a resulting injury, and (4) that the breach was the proximate cause of the injury. See Hansen v. Friend, 118 Wash.2d 476, 479, 824 P.2d 483 (1992) (citing Pedroza v. Bryant, 101 Wash.2d 226, 228, 677 P.2d 166 (1984)).

The issue presented in this case is whether a social host who furnishes alcohol to a minor owes a duty of care Plaintiffs contend that RCW 66.44.270 creates a duty of care owed by the Defendants to the Plaintiffs. RCW 66.44.270(1) makes it unlawful for any person to

                to third persons injured by the intoxicated minor.  Whether a defendant owes a duty of care to the complaining party is a question of law.  See id.   Washington courts have recognized that a legislative enactment may prescribe a standard of conduct required of a reasonable person.  See Hansen, 118 Wash.2d at 479, 824 P.2d 483;  Young v. Caravan Corp., 99 Wash.2d 655, 659, 663 P.2d 834, 672 P.2d 1267 (1983)

give, or otherwise supply liquor to any person under the age of twenty-one years or permit any person under that age to consume liquor on his or her premises or on any premises under his or her control.

RCW 66.44.270(3) does not apply

to liquor given or permitted to be given to a person under the age of twenty-one years by a parent or guardian and consumed in the presence of the parent or guardian.

To determine whether a duty of care exists based on a statutory violation, this court has adopted the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 286 (1965), which, among other things, requires that the injured person be within the class of persons the statute was enacted to protect. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 286 (1965); 2 Schooley v. Pinch's Deli Market, Inc., 134 Wash.2d 468, 474-75, 951 P.2d 749, 752-753 (1997).

In Hansen, this court recognized that a minor who is In Hansen, Keith Hansen's mother sued her son's adult social host for furnishing alcohol to her son which resulted in his death. See id. at 478, 824 P.2d 483. The court found that RCW 66.44.270(1) created a duty upon the social host not to furnish alcohol to a minor. See id. at 482, 824 P.2d 483. Applying the Restatement test, the court observed that the statute prohibits persons from giving alcohol to a minor and since Hansen was a minor who was furnished alcohol, he fell within the statute's protected class. See id. at 481, 824 P.2d 483. The court in Hansen, however, did not indicate that the class protected by the statute encompassed third persons injured by the intoxicated minor. See id. The court stated that "RCW 66.44.270(1) protects a minor's health and safety interest from the minor's own inability to drink responsibly." Id. at 481, 824 P.2d 483 (emphasis added). The Hansen court, by its express language, created a limited cause of action for minors injured by their own intoxication against their social host.

                injured as a result of alcohol intoxication has a cause of action against the social host who supplied the alcohol based on RCW 66.44.270.  See Hansen, 118 Wash.2d at 485, 824 P.2d 483.   Plaintiffs ask this court to extend the ruling of Hansen to allow a cause of action for third persons who are injured by an intoxicated minor against the social host.  We find that such an expansion is not warranted by the statute or Washington case law

Because of the inherent differences between social hosts and commercial vendors, we have indicated our reluctance to allow a cause of action against a social host to the same extent that we have recognized commercial vendor liability. We have explained:

There is good reason to withhold common law liability for social hosts even though such liability already exists for commercial and quasi-commercial hosts. Social hosts are not as capable of handling the responsibilities of monitoring their guests' alcohol consumption as are their commercial and quasi-commercial counterparts....

[T]he commercial proprietor has a proprietary interest and profit Additionally, the implications of social host liability are so much more wide sweeping and unpredictable in nature than are the implications of commercial host liability. While liability for commercial providers affects only a narrow slice of our populations, social host liability would touch most adults in the state on a frequent basis. Because social hosts are generally unaccustomed to the pressures involved in taking responsibility for the intoxication of their guests, we cannot predict how well social hosts would respond when the scope of their duties would be so ill defined.

motive, and should be expected to exercise greater supervision than in the (non-commercial) social setting. Moreover, a person in the business of selling and serving alcohol is usually better organized to control patrons, and has the financial wherewithal to do so....

Burkhart v. Harrod, 110 Wash.2d 381, 386-87, 755 P.2d 759 (1988).

Because of these important concerns, this court does not recognize a cause of action in negligence for a third person injured by an intoxicated adult against the social host that served the person while in an obviously intoxicated state, see Burkhart, 110 Wash.2d 381, 755 P.2d 759, but does recognize a cause of action against a commercial vendor in the same situation, see Dickinson v. Edwards, 105 Wash.2d 457, 716 P.2d 814 (1986). This case dramatically highlights the concerns expressed above. To expect Jamie and Anna Hicks, on their wedding day, to monitor their minor guests alcohol consumption in the same manner as we expect of an alcohol vendor is unrealistic and has far reaching social implications.

Recognizing an expanded duty to protect third persons raises problematic questions for social hosts in all contexts. Is the host required to card persons at social and family gatherings? Must the host hire a bartender to control and monitor the alcohol in the home so that a minor cannot obtain alcohol at a party? Must the host assure that a minor has not brought outside alcohol to the gathering? Must the host obtain a breathalyzer to check all minor guests before We also note that other courts have found that significant differences between social hosts and commercial vendors support different treatment. The Court of Appeals has held that a third person injured by an intoxicated minor does not have a cause of action against the social host who furnished the alcohol or allowed the consumption of the alcohol on his or her premises. See Hostetler v. Ward, 41 Wash.App. 343, 704 P.2d 1193 (1985). The court applied the Restatement test and found that RCW 66.44.270 was designed "to protect minors from injuries resulting from their abuse of alcoholic beverages, not to protect third parties injured by intoxicated minors." Id. at 354, 704 P.2d 1193. The court explained that RCW 66.44.270 does not make it unlawful for the minor's parent or guardian to give alcohol to the minor if consumed in the presence of the parent or guardian. See id. This exception, the court stated, indicates that the statute was not designed for the protection of third persons. See id. Thus, the court concluded that the injured third person was not a member of the class of persons RCW 66.44.270 was designed to protect. See id.

                leaving the premises?   The differences between the ability of commercial vendors and social hosts in regulating the consumption of alcohol along with the far reaching implications of social host liability are persuasive reasons for not expanding liability in this case.  As Justice Dolliver noted in his dissent in Hansen, the " 'judiciary is ill equipped' to impose social host liability."  Hansen,

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