Rogers v. Martin

Decision Date26 October 2016
Docket NumberNo. 02S05–1603–CT–114.,02S05–1603–CT–114.
Citation63 N.E.3d 316
Parties F. John ROGERS, as Personal Representative of Paul Michalik, Deceased, and R. David Boyer, Trustee of the Bankruptcy Estate of Jerry Lee Chambers, Appellants (Plaintiffs below), v. Angela MARTIN and Brian Paul Brothers, Appellees (Defendants below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Andrew L. Teel, Lindsey C. Swanson, Haller & Colvin, P.C., Fort Wayne, IN, Attorneys for Appellants.

Jane E. Malloy, Ashley A. O'Neil, Malloy Law, LLC, Fort Wayne, IN, Attorneys for Appellees.

RUSH

, Chief Justice.

Angela Martin and Brian Brothers co-hosted a house party. As it wound

down, Brothers and two guests—Jerry Chambers and Paul Michalik—got into a fistfight.

Afterwards, Martin found Jerry Chambers bleeding from his face and Paul Michalik lying motionless on her basement floor. Michalik died shortly thereafter.

Chambers's bankruptcy trustee and Michalik's estate sued Martin, claiming, in part, that she negligently caused Michalik's injuries and that she furnished alcohol in violation of Indiana's Dram Shop Act. Martin filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted.

Applying principles of premises liability law, we first hold that summary judgment was improper on the negligence claim. As a landowner, Martin owed her invitee Michalik a duty to exercise reasonable care for his protection while he was on her premises. This Court has, on several occasions, decided how this general landowner-invitee duty applies in various circumstances—with foreseeability being the determinative question. Bearing that in mind, we conclude that although Martin had no duty to protect Michalik from the unforeseeable fistfight, she did have a duty to protect him from the foreseeable exacerbation of an injury occurring in her home. Whether she breached this duty by going back to bed instead of taking some affirmative action, like dialing 911, is a question of fact. We therefore reverse summary judgment on the negligence claim.

Summary judgment was proper, however, on the Dram Shop Act claim. Under Indiana's Dram Shop Act, a person does not “furnish” alcohol by providing it to someone who already possesses it. And here, because Martin and Brothers jointly paid for and possessed the same beer, Martin could not furnish it to Brothers. We thus affirm summary judgment on that claim.

Facts and Procedural History

During the early morning hours of May 9, 2010, police found Paul Michalik dead on Angela Martin's front lawn.

Around six o'clock the prior evening, people began arriving at Martin's house for a party. Martin owned the home, and her then-boyfriend (now-husband) Brian Brothers had lived there on and off since 2006. Together, Martin and Brothers planned the party and invited friends, family, and co-workers. About fifty people attended, including Jerry Chambers and his significant other, Michalik. Although Martin did not know Chambers, he was a co-worker of Brothers and had been “personally invited” to the party. And while neither Martin nor Brothers had met Michalik, the understanding was that spouses, boyfriends, and girlfriends were “inadvertently invited.”

In preparation for the gathering, Brothers ordered a keg of beer, picked it up, and set it up in the garage. Brothers paid for the keg with a debit card he and Martin used for household expenses. Although the card was associated with a bank account solely in Martin's name, Brothers contributed by cashing his paychecks and giving most of his income to Martin to deposit in the account. The two regularly pooled their income to pay bills and other expenditures even though Martin made significantly more money than Brothers.

For the most part, party guests served themselves from the keg. But, at one point, a group playing poker in the basement asked Martin to fill an empty pitcher. Martin went upstairs, filled the pitcher from the keg, and brought it back to the basement, where she set it on the poker table. It is “possible” that Brothers was playing poker at the time.

Over the course of the night, Brothers had [m]aybe a couple shots, three, four beers.” Martin did not monitor Brothers's drinking, even though she knew he was on probation for a second Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) conviction.

Around 2:00 a.m., the party was winding down, and about ten guests remained. Martin told Brothers goodnight and headed to bed. According to Martin, Brothers was just “being normal,” and it was not obvious to her that he had “a buzz going.”

The last guests began to leave about 3:30 a.m., and Brothers went down to the basement to tell Chambers and Michalik it was time to go. A fistfight then ensued between the three of them. Shortly after, Brothers woke up Martin and told her that Chambers and Michalik had attacked him and that he fought back. Brothers asked Martin to help get Chambers and Michalik to leave.

Martin obliged. She got up, walked down to the basement, and saw Michalik lying motionless on the basement floor with his eyes closed. Martin did not see any injuries to Michalik's face but did notice Chambers had blood on his. She asked if Michalik was okay, and Chambers and Brothers checked Michalik's pulse and confirmed he was breathing. Martin was not concerned and did not call the police or dial 911, assuming that Michalik was “just passed out from drinking too much or something.” But she did tell Chambers that “if he's concerned, if he thinks there's a chance [Michalik has alcohol poisoning

], to take him to the hospital and get him checked out.”

Martin went back to her room, and Chambers and Brothers carried Michalik upstairs. When Brothers came to bed, Martin asked him whether Chambers and Michalik had left. Brothers said “no,” and Martin told Brothers to make sure he helped Chambers get Michalik in the car. Soon after, police arrived, found Michalik dead outside the home, and arrested Brothers. Ultimately, Brothers's OWI probation was revoked because authorities found alcohol in his system, and he was sentenced to a period of incarceration.

The personal representative of Michalik's estate and Chambers's bankruptcy trustee filed a complaint against Martin and Brothers. They claimed Martin was liable based on two theories—that Martin negligently caused Michalik's injuries and that Martin caused Michalik's and Chambers's injuries by “furnishing” alcohol to a visibly intoxicated Brothers, who assaulted those victims. Martin filed a motion for summary judgment on both claims, which the trial court granted. The trial court reasoned that Martin was not negligent because Indiana did not recognize a social host's duty to render aid to a social guest and because Martin could not “furnish” beer to Brothers, as the couple exercised joint control over the keg.1

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding summary judgment was improper because (1) Martin, as a social host, owed Michalik a duty to render aid and questions of fact remained as to whether she breached that duty and (2) questions of fact existed as to whether Martin “furnished” Brothers with beer from the keg. Rogers v. Martin, 48 N.E.3d 318, 323–25 (Ind.Ct.App.2015)

. Martin filed a petition to transfer, which we granted, thereby vacating the Court of Appeals decision. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A)

.2

Standard of Review

We review summary judgment using the same standard as the trial court: summary judgment is appropriate only when the designated evidence shows no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C)

; Hughley v. State, 15 N.E.3d 1000, 1003 (Ind.2014). And where the challenge to summary judgment raises questions of law, we review them de novo. Ballard v. Lewis, 8 N.E.3d 190, 193 (Ind.2014).

Here, both challenges raise questions of law. First, we review de novo whether Martin owed Michalik a duty. See Estate of Heck ex rel. Heck v. Stoffer, 786 N.E.2d 265, 268 (Ind.2003)

(reviewing existence of duty de novo). Second, we review de novo whether Martin “furnished” Brothers alcohol within the meaning of Indiana's Dram Shop Act. See

Gardiner v. State, 928 N.E.2d 194, 196 (Ind.2010) (reviewing matter of statutory interpretation de novo).

Discussion and Decision

Plaintiffs seek to hold Martin liable under two distinct theories—premises liability and Dram Shop Act liability. Michalik's estate first claims that Indiana should recognize a social host's duty to render aid to a social guest and that Martin breached this duty after finding Michalik lying on her basement floor. But this contention fails to recognize established premises liability principles.

Under Indiana premises liability law, the duty a landowner owes to an invitee is well established: a landowner must exercise reasonable care for the invitee's protection while the invitee is on the premises. Because this general duty has been articulated, the Court need not judicially determine the existence of a separate duty today. Rather, we look to foreseeability as the critical inquiry in deciding whether the landowner—invitee “duty to protect” extends to a particular scenario. Ultimately, as explained below, we determine that Martin was not liable, as a matter of law, for any failure on her part to protect Michalik from an unforeseeable fistfight. However, a question of fact remains on whether Martin's later action (or inaction) after discovering Michalik on her basement floor breached her duty to protect him from the foreseeable exacerbation of an injury occurring in her home.

Plaintiffs then rely on the Indiana Dram Shop Act. They claim that Martin “furnished” alcohol to Brothers, who, in turn, injured Chambers and Michalik. But a plain-meaning analysis of the Dram Shop Act reveals that “furnishing” alcohol requires a transfer of possession. And here, because Brothers and Martin jointly possessed the keg that contained the alcohol in question, Martin could not have transferred possession of, or “furnished,” the alcohol to Brothers.

I. Foreseeability is the Critical Inquiry in...

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