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Supreme Court Rules Underage Host Charging Admission to Party Can Be Held Liable

The court says collecting an entry fee for a party with alcohol is akin to a nightclub, making the host responsible for not serving drinks to obviously intoxicated minors.

By Bay City News—

In a decision expected to affect college and high-school parties, the California Supreme Court ruled on Monday that an underage host who charges admission to an alcohol-fueled party can be held liable if an intoxicated under-21 guest kills or injures another person. 
 
A 1978 state law generally provides social hosts and bars with legal immunity from being sued for civil damages for having provided alcohol to a person who harms others as a result of being drunk. But the law contains a few exceptions, including one that allows civil lawsuits against people who sell alcohol to obviously intoxicated minors. 
 
In decision issued at its headquarters in San Francisco Monday, the court unanimously ruled that a host's collection of a cover charge at a party where liquor is served qualified as a sale of alcoholic beverages. The admission fee makes the host "potentially liable under the terms of that statute as a person who sold alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor," Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote. 
 
The panel reinstated a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court against a 20-year-old party host by the parents of a college student who was killed by a 20-year-old drunken driver who had been a paying guest. 
 
The host, Jessica Manosa, gave the party in a vacant rental house owned by her parents in Diamond Bar on April 27, 2007. Her parents did not know about it. After word of the event spread by telephone and text messages, between 40 and 60 young people showed up, some of whom had not been invited. Manosa, who provided rum, tequila and beer and asked friends to buy more alcohol, asked a friend to stand by a gate outside the house and collect admission fees of $3 to $5 from the uninvited guests. 
 
One of the uninvited participants, Thomas Garcia, 20, allegedly arrived intoxicated, paid a cover charge, and drank more alcohol at the party, according to the wrongful death lawsuit by the parents of 19-year-old Andrew Ennabe, a California State University, Fullerton, student who had been an invited guest. 
 
After Garcia became rowdy, he was escorted out of the party by Ennabe and a group of friends. As Garcia drove away, he ran over Ennabe, who died of his injuries six days later. 
 
In a separate criminal case, Garcia pleaded guilty to voluntary vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Ennabe's parents, Faiez and Christina Ennabe, appealed to the state high court after a trial judge and an appeals court dismissed their civil lawsuit against Manosa on the ground that the cover charge did not amount to a sale of alcohol and that Manosa was therefore protected by the 1978 law. 
 
Werdegar wrote in the ruling that Manosa allegedly "operated what was in essence a pop-up nightclub that required a cover charge for entry" and that the action "falls with (the law's) definition of a sale of alcohol." 
 
The parents' lawsuit now goes back to Superior Court for a trial to determine whether the alleged sale to an obviously intoxicated minor occurred and whether that caused Ennabe's death. 
 
In the meantime, the ruling sets a precedent for other cases in which young people are charged a cover fee for a party, according to Sharon Arkin, a lawyer who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Consumer Attorneys of California.

"I've been told that a lot of college dorm parties and high school parties charge entry fees," she said. 
 
"Under this decision, if hosts charge a fee and serve the alcohol (to a minor) and someone gets hurt, they're responsible," Arkin said. "The decision supports the public policy purpose of liability to hold people responsible for the choices they make. Once you make that choice and start serving alcohol, you are going to have legal liability and be responsible for that choice," she said. 
 
In enacting the 1978 law granting civil immunity to social hosts and bars in most circumstances, the Legislature said its purpose was to reflect the concept that the consumption, and not the serving, of alcohol was the cause of any resulting injury. 

The exception that provides civil liability for people who sell alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor originally applied only to licensed liquor sellers, such as bars. In 1986, the Legislature expanded the exception to apply to anyone who sells alcohol. 

In yet another exception added in 2010, the Legislature established civil liability for "a parent, guardian or another adult who knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person under 21 years of age," when injury or death results, regardless of whether the young person was visibly drunk when given alcohol. 
 
Monday's decision has the effect of expanding that liability in two directions -- to underage hosts who charge admission fees and serve intoxicated minors at their residences, and to both adult and under-21 social hosts who collect fees and serve intoxicated young people at parties at facilities outside their homes.
Ken Briggs February 27, 2014 at 07:42 AM
good , they should be charged with what ever , they know that under age people may come and that by charge ing a fee you are in charge of the show , so if some one gets hurt or dies from the party , you pay up .
Bret February 27, 2014 at 08:54 AM
Yeah, great. Remove liability from a 20 year old who kills someone. Brilliant. What happened to accepting responsibility for your own actions? I guess that it doesn't count until you're 21. Oh wait, then it's the bartenders fault for serving you.
Ken Briggs February 27, 2014 at 09:04 AM
yes the onethat serves to under ago people should do prison time or at lease spend some week ends in jail and a nice fine , they know that they are not to serve under age and the under age knows that hey were not doing right so put them in jail on week ends for a few years . they should pay a fine also . if they kill some one then lock them up for a few years and make them take a weekly drug test for five years after the jail time . teach them not to be a stupid drunk .
bkehoe February 27, 2014 at 01:47 PM
Leaving all accusations of guilt aside, I see this ruling as an erosion of the legal definition of a minor. In essence now, a high school kid or maybe even a middle school kid could be tried like an adult under this ruling. I do not think the courts have thought this through. And just for the sake of argument, where does the real responsibility lie? The drinker? The server (who maybe not be experienced enough to judge someones intoxication level) or the manufacturers and advertisers who promote drinking to the teen/college demographic? If minors are going to be treated as adults in the courts then they should be given the full rights of an adult!
Ken Briggs February 27, 2014 at 02:09 PM
oh yes ,but the under folks ,kids or what ever knows that you are not to drink booze til you are at the age of 21. but i guess the kid could drink and driv e and kill some one and he or she can get away with it . that is wrong . if you are under age and you know it so what grow up and pay the price . the ones that charge you a fee or ask for a donation is still charging you a fee they should go to jail if you hurt or kill some one . time for the under age to grow up or send you to a nut hospital til you understand what you did is wrong and now you grow up fast if you wantout of the nut hospital you got to tell the courts why you were so dumb .
blackoutmetal666 February 27, 2014 at 05:33 PM
No problems would occur if it was Marijuana smoking. That's for sure. Ken Briggs learn proper grammar also I can barely understand that garbage.

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