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Law School Case Brief

Spierer v. Rossman - 798 F.3d 502 (7th Cir. 2015)

Rule:

To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs must allege facts that show that the defendants: (1) owed a duty to the defendant; (2) that they breached that duty; and, (3) that the death was proximately caused by the breach. Indiana courts use a three-part balancing test to determine whether a duty exists when it has not been declared or otherwise articulated. Specifically, courts consider: the relationship between the parties, the foreseeability of the occurrence, and public policy concerns.

Facts:

After a night of heavy drinking, Lauren Spierer, a 20-year-old Indiana University student, left the apartment of a classmate and disappeared. Four years later, she remains missing. Lauren's parents brought suit against three students who were with Lauren in the hours before her disappearance, alleging negligence and violations of Indiana's Dram Shop Act. After some claims were dismissed but before discovery was conducted, defendants moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the parents could only speculate about whether the defendants were the proximate cause of any injury sustained. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment for the defendants. The parents appealed, contesting both the dismissal of claims and the award of summary judgment for the defendants.

Issue:

Were the defendants liable for negligence for the disappearance of their classmate?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The trial court correctly granted summary judgment on the Dram Shop Act and negligence per se claims, because there were no set of facts to present to a jury to determine the nature of the injury suffered by the missing child and it was pure speculation whether any injury was caused by the actions of the classmates, who were with the parents' daughter before she went missing, or the criminal intervention of a third party. The parents failed to state a plausible claim for common law negligence, based on the assumption of a duty, as the classmates were not in positions of superiority to the daughter and no facts established that the classmates had the right or ability to control their friend's movements.

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