Jessica Manosa, a 20-year-old college student, decided to throw a party at her parents’ empty rental home. She bought some booze, cups, and cranberry juice, hired a DJ, and even convinced a friend to play bouncer at the entrance. She told him to charge a few bucks to anyone he didn’t recognize. But once inside, guests could dance to the music and drink freely from the assortment of beer, tequila, and jungle juice. The money collected was used to buy more alcohol for the party.
At some point in the evening Thomas Garcia showed up with his friends. He was already so drunk that he was slurring his words. But he paid the cover charge, and so the bouncer let him inside.
Garcia continued to drink, and soon he and his friends became “rowdy, aggressive, and obnoxious.” They made obscene and threatening comments to women at the party, and at one point, he or a friend dropped his pants.
About this time, Andrew Ennabe, a friend of Manosa, confronted Garcia and crew and kicked them out of the party. As the unruly guests were escorted to their car, one of them spit at Ennabe. This prompted Ennabe to chase the expectorator into the street, but as Garcia drove away he struck Ennabe, killing him.
Ennabe’s parents sued Jessica Manosa and her parents for wrongful death. On February 24, 2014, the California Supreme Court issued its opinion in Ennabe v. Manosa, concluding that Ennabe’s lawsuit against the Manosas should proceed to trial.
Under California law, generally social hosts who serve alcohol — even to a visibly intoxicated guest — are not liable for any resulting injuries or deaths caused by that person. The California Supreme Court explained this “immunity” applies because, “the consumption of alcohol, not the service of alcohol, is the proximate cause of any resulting injury.”
An exception to this rule, however, applies when someone “sells alcoholic beverages…to an obviously intoxicated minor.” Like Manosa herself, Garcia was under 21 and visibly drunk when he arrived.
But the question posed to the Court was this: did the small entrance fee Manosa charged mean she had “sold” Garcia the alcohol available inside?
Manosa protested that if the Court found her liable for Ennabe’s death, it would destroy the “social fabric of modern life.” The Court bluntly disagreed, “The assertion is exaggerated…in contrast to Manosa…ordinary social hosts do not use bouncers, allow uninvited strangers into their homes, or extract an entrance fee or cover charge from their guests. Nor does maintaining the social fabric of our society depend on protecting from civil liability those persons who would sell alcoholic beverages to minors who are already visibly intoxicated.”
The Court concluded that because Manosa charged an admission fee to her party, which the Court described as a “pop-up nightclub,” she sold alcohol to Garcia, and therefore could be liable for the death of Ennabe.
This ruling will have a profound effect on college parties where the hosts charge even a few bucks at the door. If they provide alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor at the party, they might find themselves liable for resulting injuries caused or suffered by that drunken guest.