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Wong-Leong v. Hawaiian Indep. Refinery - 76 Haw. 433, 879 P.2d 538 (1994)

Rule:

Under the theory of respondeat superior, an employer may be liable for the negligent acts of its employees that occur within the scope of their employment.

Facts:

Beatrice Wong-Leong and Brian Sugimoto  (Plaintiffs) appeal the circuit court's order granting Defendant Hawaiian Independent Refinery, Inc.'s (HIRI) motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment. Wong-Leong and Sugimoto brought separate actions against HIRI alleging that HIRI was liable for the deaths caused by the drunk driving of one of its employees, Joshua Rellamas. HIRI consolidated the actions, and then obtained summary judgment on all claims, asserting that (1) as a matter of law, it cannot be held liable as a social host because Hawaii does not recognize social host liability, and in any event, it was not a social host, (2) it is not liable for negligent failure to control Rellamas because it could not know of any foreseeable risk, nor did it permit the consumption of alcohol on HIRI premises, and (3) it is not liable under the theory of respondeat superior because Rellamas was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident.

Plaintiffs opposed HIRI's motion, arguing that (1) because there is a business purpose and employment relationship, or employer benefit, in the use and consumption of alcohol on refinery premises in general, and specifically as part of refinery tradition in celebrating promotions, HIRI can be held liable under the theory of respondeat superior, (2) HIRI can be held liable for negligent failure to control its employee because, unlike the employers in previously decided Hawaii cases, HIRI had the potential to control Rellamas and, in fact, actually exercised control, albeit negligently, in the instant case, and (3) Johnston v. KFC Nat'l Mgmt. Co., 71 Haw. 229, 788 P.2d 159 (1990), does not dispose of their social host claim because that case can be distinguished by virtue of the alleged drug use by Rellamas and the frequency of alcoholic consumption on HIRI's premises.

After the circuit court ruled in favor of HIRI, Plaintiffs moved for and were granted a Hawaii Rules of Civil Procedure (HRCP) Rule 54(b) certification of final judgment and subsequently filed a timely notice of appeal. 

Issue:

Did HIRI have liability under the theory of respondeat superior?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the trial court, holding that there was evidence and allegations that supported a claim for respondeat superior; because the party had been organized for the benefit of the employer and the participation by the employee could be considered within the scope of employment and the consequences of drinking at the party were that the employee may drive home intoxicated was reasonably foreseeable by the employer. The court further held that the employer had no duty to control the activities of the employee after the employee left the scope of employment because the employer could not be held liable as a social host.

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