Dram Shop Liability: Furnishing Alcohol to Minors

Ruiz v. Safeway, Inc., (First District, October 12, 2012) — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2012 WL 4845615
The parents of a man who was killed when his car was struck by an 18-year-old drunk driver, filed an action against the store where his underage passenger had purchased a 12-pack of beer which they had consumed. The plaintiffs alleged that the store was liable under Business & Professions Code § 25602.1, which provides for liability of a licensed provider “who sells, furnishes, gives or cause to be sold, furnished or given away any alcoholic beverage … to any obviously intoxicated minor. Although the driver was with his passenger when the latter used a false identification to purchase the beer, the plaintiffs contended that the Safeway checker had “furnished” or “caused to be furnished or given” alcohol to the driver.

The trial court granted summary judgment and the court of appeal affirmed, finding that despite the presence of the driver at the time of the purchase, because the person to whom the alcohol was sold was not the driver of the vehicle, the store could not be held liable under § 25602.1:

“[A]ppellants note that Spitzer and Morse entered the Safeway store together, went to the beer aisle together, stood in line together, and left the store together. Appellants argue that under those circumstances, “a jury could reasonably infer and conclude that Morse was going to consume some of the alcohol purchased by Spitzer, such that the Safeway checker furnished alcohol to both Spitzer and Morse, or that she caused the alcohol to be furnished or given to Morse by selling it to Spitzer….” We reject this argument for two reasons. First, it fails to take into account the unique history of the statute at issue. Section 25602.1 is the single exception to what our Supreme Court has characterized as the “sweeping civil immunity” granted by section 25602 . . . . Second, appellants’ attempt to rely on what the checker could infer based on the circumstances of Spitzer’s purchase is in effect an attempt to return to the type of forseeability analysis that our Legislature specifically rejected when it amended section 25602 and adopted 25602.1. Here, as we have stated, there is no evidence that Safeway violated 25602.1 as the statute is written. We decline appellants’ invitation to interpret the statute broadly so as to create a jury question where one does not otherwise exist.
. . .
We need not try to reconcile these two lines of authority other than to note that nothing in the cases upon which appellants rely indicates the statutes in those jurisdictions have a legislative history that is similar to section 25602.1. As we have stated, our Legislature’s quick and specific rejection of the courts’ attempt to expand dram shop liability in California, and the long history of construing section 25602.1 narrowly convince us that Safeway cannot be held liable under the specific facts of this case. If there is to be any change in that conclusion, that change must come from the Legislature.”

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