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WADLEY v. ASPILLAGA
August 6, 2001
DONNA WADLEY, ET. AL., PLAINTIFFS,
RICARDO ASPILLAGA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lamberth, District Judge.
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.
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.
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).
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
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 ...