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WADLEY v. ASPILLAGA

August 6, 2001

DONNA WADLEY, ET. AL., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
RICARDO ASPILLAGA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lamberth, District Judge.

    MEMORANDUM OPINION

Now before the Court are motions by defendants Intelsat, Cowan, and Stoner to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; a motion by plaintiffs to amend the complaint to add a claim of vicarious liability against Intelsat; and a motion by plaintiffs to convert defendants' motions to dismiss into summary judgment motions. Upon consideration of these motions and the supporting documents, the oppositions and replies thereto, the entire record and the relevant law, the Court DENIES Intelsat's motion to dismiss, GRANTS Cowan's and Stoner's motion to dismiss, GRANTS plaintiffs' motion to amend, and DENIES plaintiffs' motion to convert the defendants' motions into summary judgment motions.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Donna Wadley is the mother and a personal representative of the decedent, Seth Wadley. Plaintiff Alfred Wadley is the father and a personal representative of Seth Wadley. Defendant Ricardo Aspillaga is an employee of Prism Corporation who worked at International Telecommunications Satellite Organization's ("Intelsat") offices. Defendant Intelsat is a corporation located in Washington, D.C. Defendant Nancy Cowan is an agent of Intelsat. Finally, Defendant Edward Stoner is also an agent of Intelsat.

Defendants Intelsat, Cowan, and Stoner have moved to dismiss the complaint against them for plaintiffs' failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs have filed a motion, pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 15(a), seeking to amend the complaint a second time to add a claim for vicarious liability. Plaintiffs have also filed a motion seeking to convert Defendants' rule 12(b)(6) motions into summary judgment motions, and then have asked this Court, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f), to permit discovery regarding the material factual differences.

Facts

The facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. Aspillaga is a network administrator who worked exclusively at Intelsat's Offices for four months. (Pl.'s Second Am.Compl., ¶ 23). Aspillaga, moreover, worked alongside Intelsat employees who held identical positions as Aspillaga. (Id. at ¶ 24). In addition, Aspillaga's direct supervisor was an employee of Intelsat. (Id.). This supervisor exercised control over the performance of Aspillaga's work and the manner in which the work was done. (Id.). However, Aspillaga was paid by Prism. (Pl.'s Mot. to Am.Compl. to add vicarious liability, p. 5).

On December 18, 1999, Aspillaga was invited to and attended a holiday party hosted by Intelsat. (Pl.'s Am.Compl., ¶ 15). The holiday party was held at the Renaissance Hotel located at 999 Ninth Street, N.W., in Washington, D.C. (Id.). While at the party, Aspillaga consumed alcoholic beverages. (Id. at ¶ 16). After the party ended at approximately 1:00 a.m., (Id. at ¶ 17), Aspillaga attended an "after-party" party where he consumed more alcohol. (Id. at ¶ 19). This after-party was hosted by Cowan, Stoner, and/or Intelsat in a suite at the Renaissance Hotel. (Id. at ¶ 18).

Aspillaga was obviously intoxicated during the party and after-party, (Id. at ¶ 20); however, no attempts were made by Cowan, Stoner, or any other Intelsat employees to monitor or control the alcohol intake of any of their guests. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21). Moreover, no steps were taken by these defendants to prevent intoxicated attendees of their party from operating a motor vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 22). Aspillaga later left the party and proceeded to drive his automobile. (Id. at ¶ 11).

At approximately 3:45 am., on December 19, 1999, Seth Wadley was lawfully crossing the street as a pedestrian, heading northbound at the intersection of 11th and G Streets, N.W., in Washington, D.C. (Id. at ¶ 10). At the same time and place, Aspillaga was driving his automobile west-bound on G street, at its intersection with 11th Street. (Id. at ¶ 11). Suddenly, and without warning, Aspillaga ran a red light at an excessive rate of speed and struck Seth Wadley with his automobile. (Id. at ¶ 12). As a result of this collision, Seth Wadley later died. (Id.).

After the accident, Aspillaga proceeded to flee the scene of the accident. (Id. at ¶ 13). He was later arrested by a police officer in Arlington County, Virginia. (Id.). At all relevant times, Aspillaga was extremely intoxicated. (Id. at ¶ 14).

ANALYSIS

Plaintiffs have stated a cause of action for vicarious liability by alleging Intelsat furthered its own business interests by hosting a holiday party and an after party where Aspillaga was negligently furnished with alcohol. The claims against Cowan and Stoner, however, must be dismissed because the District of Columbia does not recognize a cause of action for business host liability. Plaintiffs, who also seek to amend their complaint a second time, have failed to prejudice defendants by intentionally stalling or repeatedly failing to correct their complaint. The District of Columbia has not yet considered liability against "business hosts" based upon vicarious liability or the negligent furnishment of alcohol. A number of other jurisdictions, however, have examined such claims.*fn1

If a plaintiff has failed "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted," a court may grant a defendant's motion to dismiss. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); see also Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984); Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1114 (D.C.Cir. 2000). "Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper when, taking the material allegations of the complaint as admitted . . . and construing them in plaintiff['s] favor . . . the court finds that the plaintiff has failed to allege all the material elements of his cause of action." Weyrich v. New Republic, Inc., 235 F.3d 617, 623 (D.C.Cir. 2001) (internal citations omitted). A court, however, should not use Rule 12(b)((6) "to weed out what appear to be factually deficient cases . . . ." Krieger v. Fadely, 211 F.3d 134, 136 (D.C.Cir. 2000).*fn2

Social Host Liability

Defendants Intelsat, Cowan, and Stoner, if they hosted the Christmas party and after-party for social reasons, will not be liable to plaintiffs. Social hosts have no duty and are not liable to parties who are injured when alcohol is served to social guests. See, e.g., Chastain v. Litton Sys., 694 F.2d 957, 960 (4th Cir. 1982) (stating North Carolina common law does not permit recovery against a social host); Hill v. Honey's, Inc., 786 F. Supp. 549, 550 (D.S.C. 1992) (explaining a social host is free from liability to third parties when he serves alcohol in South Carolina (citing Garren v. Cummings & McCrady, Inc., 289 S.C. 348, 345 S.E.2d 508, 510 (Ct.App. 1986))); Wright v. Sue & Charles, Inc., 131 Md. App. 466, 749 A.2d 241, 247 (Md. 2000) ("Maryland does not recognize a cause of action for social host liability"); Dan B. Dobbs, The Law of Torts § 332 (1st ed. 2000) ("Social host liability today remains the exception rather than the rule."); but see Makynen v. Mustakangas, 39 Mass. App.Ct. 309, 655 N.E.2d 1284, 1285-87 (1995) (allowing liability to be imposed upon a social host for serving an obviously intoxicated person); Wiener v. Gamma Phi Chapter of Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity, 258 Or. 632, 485 P.2d 18, 21 (1971) (permitting social host liability against parties who had reason to know the people alcohol was served to might do unreasonable things).

Here, the District of Columbia has no statutory or common law cause of action that imposes liability on social hosts.*fn3 Moreover, the majority of jurisdictions do not recognize social host liability. Many reasons exist for this legal decision. For example, social hosts do not receive a monetary benefit from serving alcohol to guests. In addition, social hosts may lack the ability to determine when a guest is intoxicated. Finally, social hosts do not fall under the same regulatory schemes that providers of alcohol do; therefore, the legislature has made a decision to not monitor social hosts in the same fashion to ensure compliance. If the District of Columbia wishes to impose liability on social hosts, the City Council or Congress ...


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