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KURT JEFFERIS v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA AND WEST CHESTER UNIVERSITY (02/09/88)

filed: February 9, 1988.

KURT JEFFERIS, APPELLANT,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA AND WEST CHESTER UNIVERSITY, THETA CHI FRATERNITY AND RALPH BROWN



Appeal from the Judgment entered June 19, 1986 in the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, Civil Division, at No. 84-06600.

COUNSEL

Theodore P. Michaels, West Chester, for appellant.

Richard A. Mitchell, Media, for Theta Chi Fraternity, appellee.

Cirillo, President Judge, and Rowley and Hoffman,*fn* JJ. Cirillo, President Judge, files a concurring opinion. Rowley, J., files a concurring and dissenting opinion.

Author: Hoffman

[ 371 Pa. Super. Page 14]

This is an appeal from the order of the lower court granting appellee's, the National Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity, motion for summary judgment. The appellant contends that the lower court erred in granting summary judgment because appellee was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law.*fn1 We agree, and, accordingly, reverse the order of the lower court and remand the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Appellant, a minor, was injured after consuming liquor at a party hosted by a local chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity. Appellant filed an action in tort arguing that under the social host liability recognized in Congini v. Portersville Valve Co., 504 Pa. 157, 470 A.2d 515 (1983), the fraternity as one entity was negligent per se for furnishing alcoholic beverages to a minor. Appellee, the national fraternity, filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that it did not exert sufficient control over the local chapter to be held liable as a matter of law. Ruling on other grounds, the trial court granted the motion. This appeal followed.

Appellant contends that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of appellees. We agree. In determining whether to grant a motion for summary judgment, a trial court must decide whether,

[ 371 Pa. Super. Page 15]

    under the facts averred, there is any genuine issue of material fact in the absence of which the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Pa.R.Civ.P. 1035(b). See also Sun Ray Drug Co. v. Lawler, 366 Pa. 571, 573, 79 A.2d 262, 263 (1951). Because the effect of a summary judgment is to put one party out of court, it should be granted only in the clearest of cases. Mscisz v. Russell, 338 Pa. Superior Ct. 38, 41, 487 A.2d 839, 841 (1984). On review, we must examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and any doubts must be resolved against the entry of summary judgment. Harris by Harris v. Easton Publishing Co., 335 Pa. Superior Ct. 141, 152, 483 A.2d 1377, 1383 (1984).

Here, the trial court found, without articulating its reasons, that appellee could not be held liable as a matter of law. Lower Court Order, June 19, 1986. In its opinion, filed pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a), the trial court referred us to its June 19th order, and, in support of that order, cited as precedent the then-recently announced federal case Fassett v. Poch, 625 F.Supp. 324 (E.D.Pa.1985). In Fassett, the district court interpreted our Commonwealth's social host liability law to preclude recovery from any defendant who did not actually and physically serve alcohol to a minor. Id. at 336.*fn2 Because the trial court offered no basis for its opinion other than merely citing Fassett, we can only surmise that it granted summary judgment in favor of appellee under the reasoning used in that case.*fn3 We disagree with the Fassett court's interpretation of Pennsylvania's social host liability law, and, accordingly, hold that the trial court erred in relying upon it as the basis for its ruling.*fn4

[ 371 Pa. Super. Page 16]

It is the duty of the courts of Pennsylvania to interpret the laws of the Commonwealth. Our Supreme Court first addressed the issue of social host liability in the companion cases of Congini v. Portersville Valve Co., supra and Klein v. Raysinger, 504 Pa. 141, 470 A.2d 507 (1983).*fn5 Klein concerned plaintiffs injured in an automobile accident by a drunken adult driver. In addition to suing the driver for damages, the plaintiffs also sued the social hosts who had served the driver intoxicating beverages. Our Supreme Court concluded that it would not impose liability in a social host situation when an adult had been served alcohol. Id., 504 Pa. at 148, 470 A.2d at 516.

In Congini, however, the intoxicated driver who had been served by the social host was a minor. Congini v. Portersville Valve Co., supra 504 Pa. at 160, 470 A.2d at 516. The Congini court reasoned that liability may be found in social host situations involving minors because the legislature has "[M]ade a judgment that persons under twenty-one years of age are incompetent to handle alcohol." Id., 504 Pa. at 161, 470 A.2d at 517 (citing 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6308). This, the Court held, distinguished the case from the adult intoxicated driver situation in Klein. The Court further noted that a person may be criminally liable as an accomplice for furnishing a minor with alcohol, id. (citing 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 306), and that civil liability may be premised upon the requirements of a legislative enactment designed to protect a similar class of interests or individuals. Id. (citing Restatement (Second) Torts § 286 (1977)). The Court concluded that as the legislature had imposed a measure of criminal

[ 371 Pa. Super. Page 17]

    accomplice liability upon a person who furnishes a minor alcohol, the same principle would be imposed in civil situations. Id. The Court then held that social hosts who furnish a minor with alcohol were potentially liable for damages resulting from that minor's intoxication. Id., 504 Pa. at 162, 470 A.2d at 518. While recognizing the existence of such liability, however, the ...


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