Law School Case Brief
Juliano v. Simpson - 461 Mass. 527, 962 N.E.2d 175 (2012)
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reviews a grant of summary judgment de novo to determine whether, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, all material facts have been established, and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.
Plaintiff R.J., a minor, suffered serious injuries when the automobile in which she was a passenger struck a utility pole. She and the driver of the automobile, defendant Christian Dunbar, who was 19 years old, had just left a party hosted by defendant Jessica A. Simpson, who also was 19 years old. At the party, Dunbar consumed alcoholic beverages he had obtained earlier that evening and brought to Jessica's house. Jessica's father, defendant Peter Simpson, was not home at the time of the party. R.J. and her parents, plaintiffs Mark and Tracy Juliano, filed a complaint in Massachusetts superior court against Dunbar, Mr. Simpson and Jessica, alleging numerous causes of action. After most claims were dismissed on summary judgment, plaintiffs amended their complaint to allege a claim of social host liability against Mr. Simpson and Jessica. The superior court judge ruled, sua sponte, that plaintiffs had presented insufficient evidence to support their allegations of social host liability. The judge dismissed the new claims and ordered entry of separate and final judgment on them. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts granted plaintiffs' application for direct appellate review of the dismissed social host liability claims against Jessica.
Did the common-law social host liability attach in the circumstances presented in plaintiffs' action?
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the superior court's judgment and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The court found, inter alia, that no intent to create a private right of action appeared either in the text of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 138, § 34 or in its legislative history. Consequently, a violation of § 34 would not itself establish that Jessica, the underage host, breached a duty of care. Under the common law, a social host's duty was found only where the host either served alcohol to guests or effectively controlled the supply of alcohol. The court declined to expand the common-law duty of social hosts to an underage host who did not supply alcohol to underage guests, but provided a location where they were permitted to consume it. Therefore, the claims against Jessica were properly dismissed.
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