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BOOKER v. LEHIGH UNIV.

August 3, 1992

LORA ANN BOOKER, Plaintiff
v.
LEHIGH UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: E. MAC TROUTMAN

 This matter is now before us on defendant Lehigh University's motion for summary judgment. The issue is whether under the law of Pennsylvania a university may be held liable to one of its underage students when, as a result of her own self-indulgent behavior, she becomes inebriated at on-campus fraternity parties and thereafter injuries herself in a fall. We are thus herein deciding the liability of Lehigh University only. Our jurisdiction is based upon diversity, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332, and venue is proper since the events occurred in, and the defendants reside in, this district. 28 U.S.C.A. § 1391. For the reasons which follow, we conclude that Lehigh University is not liable for the plaintiff's injuries.

 I. BACKGROUND.1

 A. The Night of the Incident.

 On November 18, 1988, plaintiff was 19 years and 11 months of age, and was a sophomore at Lehigh University ("Lehigh"). Sometime about 6:00 p.m. plaintiff attended a cocktail party at the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity. She stayed until approximately 8:00 p.m. During these two hours she consumed four or five vodka collins drinks. She then left the party and returned to her sorority room to change for the next party. At this time she already felt "buzzed". At about 9:00 p.m. she drove with some of the older girls from her sorority up "the hill" to a party at Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. While at this party, plaintiff drank one bottle of beer and two six inch high plastic cups filled with grain punch. She filled the cups herself from a big vat. At neither of these parties was plaintiff asked to show any identification, nor did she observe any Lehigh University or private security guards. She and a group of friends left this party sometime before midnight, and walked about five minutes to attend a party at Kappa Sigma fraternity. Plaintiff stayed at Kappa Sigma only about one half hour and did not drink any alcohol while there. She and a friend then walked to Sigma Chi fraternity, about a five minute walk. She did not consume any alcohol there either and stayed only about ten minutes before leaving to walk back to her room. By this time she felt drunk and left because it was time to go home. Plaintiff admitted that she probably drank more than usual since it was Lehigh-Lafayette Weekend, the weekend of a football game between these two old rivals.

 She walked back to her room alone by following the road to a point in front of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house. At this point she decided to leave the road and walk down a "trail" to the next level of the campus since it was a short cut to her sorority. To traverse this trail, part of the student named "Ho Chi Minh" trail, one must walk across rocks, and in addition, the trail does not have any steps, is not lighted, and is, apparently, a student created shortcut. Students normally do not walk down the trail because it is too steep. For this reason, plaintiff herself had never before attempted to walk down the trail.

 Plaintiff does not remember anything after she left the road to walk down the trail, but at some point on the trail she must have fallen and struck her head. The next thing plaintiff remembers is finding herself at the bottom of the trail behind a dormitory, brushing the dust off herself. She then managed to go to the dorm to get assistance from persons inside. A boy from the dorm walked with her to her sorority house where a couple of her sorority sisters took her immediately to defendant St. Luke's Hospital since she had a cut above her eye which was very bloody. This was approximately 2:00 a.m.

 The next day, Saturday, plaintiff's father came to take her home. For the rest of the weekend plaintiff suffered from blurred vision, headaches, could not walk or sit up, and did not get a sound sleep. Ultimately, on Monday, plaintiff's pain greatly increased whereupon she was given a CAT scan which revealed a hematoma on her brain and she was operated on immediately. Lehigh was not involved in any respect with the treatment of plaintiff's injuries. *fn2"

 B. Lehigh University's Social Policy re: Alcohol.

 In the Summer of 1988, Lehigh published a booklet entitled "A Guide to the Social Policy". In this guide, the policy of Lehigh regarding alcohol use is outlined. Under article D, "Social Policy Rules", the first issue addressed is the "Distribution of Alcohol". The Social Policy states "Party hosts are responsible for ensuring that only persons 21 years of age or over are served alcoholic beverages." (Social Policy § D.1.a., attached to Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition (Doc. #26), Exh. "A") (emphasis added.) "Party hosts must hire a uniformed security guard to check identification at the entrance to the room where alcoholic beverages are served." (Social Policy § D.1.c.1.) (emphasis added.) "Hosts must ensure that no one under the age of 21 possesses or consumes alcohol at the party." (Social Policy § D.1.d.) (emphasis added.) Under section 3, "Party Registration", the Social Policy states, inter alia, "Registration of the party does not constitute University approval of such events." (Social Policy § D.3.) This same language also appears in all capital letters on the registration form itself. (See, Brief in Opposition, Exhs. "B" and "C".)

 John Smeaton, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, Lehigh's designated deponent as the person responsible for, inter alia, student social affairs outside the classroom, testified that Lehigh was not blind to the fact that underage drinking occurs on college campuses, with Lehigh being no exception. Recognizing this, Lehigh revised and updated its Social Policy in an attempt to alter the situation. The Social Policy, while outlining additional responsibilities that the students should observe for the sake of the overall campus environment, essentially tracked state law that a person must be 21 to consume alcohol. In addition to revising its Social Policy regarding alcohol to improve the campus environment, Lehigh hired a person to provide counselling and education regarding drug and alcohol use and abuse. (Depo. of John Smeaton (Doc. #25) at 74)

 Mr. Smeaton testified that "the spirit of the policy was, or the intention of the policy was that you must be 21 to have access to the room where alcohol is being served." (Id. at 22) Lehigh's concern was "to provide a healthy, positive social environment for [its] students." (Id. at 74) This concern was not just for underage students, but all students. The social Policy is an educational rule designed to educate the students, to maximize the social environment and minimize problems. It is designed to make the students think about what they are doing. (Id. at 49)

 As noted above, one of the requirements that students were to observe under the social Policy was to register any parties. Registration of parties was required simply to provide information to the student life office. (Id. at 11) It also serves the purpose of reminding the students *fn3" of the rules and regulations attendant to holding parties; it is a check list to remind the students to follow those rules.


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