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Kiriakos v. Dankos

Court of Appeals of Maryland

July 5, 2016


          Argued: February 4, 2016

         Circuit Court for Baltimore County Case No.: 03-C-11-009991

         Circuit Court for Howard County Case No.: 13-C-12-092909 MT

          Barbera, C.J. [*]Battaglia Greene Adkins McDonald Harrell, Glenn T., Jr. (Retired, Specially Assigned) Wilner, Alan M. Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.


          Adkins, J.

          Although young people "are close to a lifelong peak of physical health, strength, and mental capacity, "[1] they are still developing in profound ways suggesting that they, in contrast to adults, are not capable of handling the more dangerous elements this world offers. See Terry A. Maroney, The False Promise of Adolescent Brain Science in Juvenile Justice, 85 Notre Dame L. Rev. 89, 100 (2009) ("[B]y the early 2000s neuroscience supported the notion that teen brains are structurally and functionally different from those of both children and adults."). Prominent among these dangers, and front and center in these cases, is alcohol. Today we address to what extent adults who allow underage persons to drink alcohol on their property-in violation of Md. Code (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol.), § 10-117(b) of the Criminal Law Article ("CR")-are liable for injuries arising from the youth's intoxication.

         The harm that alcohol poses to youths is pernicious, pervasive, and deadly[2]especially when motor vehicles are involved. See H.B. 299, Fiscal & Policy Note, 2009 Reg. Sess., at 5 (Md. 2009) ("According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, alcohol-impaired driving is one of the nation's deadliest crimes."); id. (explaining that, among all fatally injured alcohol-impaired drivers, the percentage of such drivers aged 16 to 20 "has hovered around 25%" since 1995).[3]

         Maryland established the minimum drinking age of 21 in 1982. See Maryland Code (1957, 1996 Repl. Vol.), § 400A of Article 27; H.B. 85, Reg. Sess. (Md. 1982).[4]Unsurprisingly, underage people attempt to drink in spite of this law. One way underage people can circumvent a minimum drinking age law is to turn to adults over 21.

         The General Assembly targeted adults in the fight to protect youths from alcohol when, in 1996, it enacted CR § 10-117(b). CR § 10-117(b), which contains exceptions not pertinent to the cases before us, [5] states that "an adult may not knowingly and willfully allow an individual under the age of 21 years actually to possess or consume an alcoholic beverage at a residence, or within the curtilage of a residence that the adult owns or leases and in which the adult resides."

         It is against this backdrop that we confront two cases with the dangerous common denominator of underage people drinking alcohol on an adult's property, and then leaving that property in a motor vehicle. With respect to both cases, the facts are as alleged by the Petitioners in their complaints, or in the Kiriakos case, in the Motion For Summary Judgment, Opposition, or attachments thereto. In both cases, the consumption of alcohol was done with the knowledge and consent of the adult property owner.


         Case No. 55: Dankos

         17-year-old Steven Dankos ("Steven") became intoxicated during a party at Linda Stapf's house on the evening of November 28, 2009.[6] When Steven left early the next morning, still intoxicated, he rode in the bed of David Erdman's pickup truck. Erdman, another intoxicated partygoer who was 22 years old, crashed the truck shortly after leaving, and Steven was killed.

         When Stapf first came home during the party, she found a large crowd at her house.[7]Stapf told her son Kevin that some people would have to leave, but she permitted him and some others to continue partying in the garage. Although Stapf knew some (like Kevin) were under 21 and some under 18, she allowed them to keep drinking.

         During the party, Stapf sat in the kitchen near the garage and played solitaire. Alcohol was kept in the garage and made available to all guests. At least four times, she entered the garage to observe the goings-on. Although Stapf asked them to turn down the music, she did not ask or tell them to limit or stop drinking.

         When Kelsey Erdman ("Kelsey") approached Stapf in the kitchen to express her concerns about her brother driving while intoxicated, Stapf did nothing. Stapf did not tell Kelsey to drive Erdman home, nor call Erdman's parents, nor even check on his condition. Stapf also did not attempt to prevent any intoxicated guests from driving off her premises.

         Erdman crashed shortly after leaving the party. Steven, who rode in the truck bed, was ejected and killed.[8] The State charged Stapf with violating CR § 10-117(b), but ultimately stetted this charge.

         In May 2013, Nancy Dankos, Steven's mother, filed an amended complaint ("Amended Complaint"), [9] alleging various claims against Stapf that sounded in negligence: common law social host liability; breach of duties arising out of Maryland criminal law statutes;[10] breach of a duty to act;[11] a wrongful death claim; and a survival action. Stapf filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing principally that Dankos had failed to allege the breach of a legally cognizable duty. The Circuit Court for Howard County granted the motion in substantial part.[12]

         Following her timely notice of appeal, [13] the Court of Special Appeals affirmed. Davis v. Stapf, 224 Md.App. 393, 398, cert. granted sub nom. Dankos v. Stapf, 445 Md. 4 (2015).[14] Although the intermediate appellate court concluded that Dankos properly alleged a duty, it still affirmed the dismissal for lack of proximate cause. Id. at 424–25. The court's conclusion about proximate cause was also fatal to Dankos's other claims of breach of a duty. Id. at 425–29.

         Case No. 20: Kiriakos

         Manal Kiriakos was walking her dogs on the sidewalk one morning when 18-year-old Shetmiyah Robinson, driving a large sport utility vehicle, hit Kiriakos, causing her life-threatening injuries.[15]

         The prior afternoon and evening, Robinson had been working with Brandon Phillips and another man at Phillips's house.[16] They began drinking a bottle of vodka and some champagne around 10:00 p.m. Phillips himself mixed the vodka in Robinson's drink with orange juice. Phillips, age 26, knew that Robinson was 18, that Robinson had driven to Phillips's house and would have to drive to leave, and that Robinson had too much to drink. Because of the quantity Robinson consumed, [17] Phillips told Robinson to "watch what he's drinking." Phillips also offered to let Robinson sleep at his place, but said that Robinson could leave "whenever he was ready" if he "was sure that he was going to be able to drive." Robinson decided to wait for the effects of the alcohol to wear off, and left around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m.

         Robinson struck Kiriakos about one hour later. The officer who arrived at the scene detected "a strong odor" of alcohol on Robinson's breath. This officer also noticed that Robinson's eyes were bloodshot and that vomit was on his sweatshirt. Robinson consented to a preliminary breath test, which measured a BAC of .088. Based on the sobriety test, among other things, the officer placed Robinson under arrest.[18] At the precinct, Robinson consented to take a breath test, which measured a BAC of .08.

         Kiriakos filed an amended complaint against multiple defendants, [19] including Phillips. The sole count against Phillips sounded in negligence. Kiriakos alleged that Phillips owed a duty "to the public in general, " including her, not to provide alcohol and illegal drugs to someone "under-aged" when he knew or should have known the under-aged person would drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Phillips filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that "Maryland does not recognize social host liability for serving alcohol." After a hearing, the Circuit Court for Baltimore County granted Phillips's motion, refusing to find that Phillips owed Kiriakos a legal duty, and explaining that "I'm bound by the law as it exists in the present day and Maryland simply has consistently refused for other reasons to extend liability that far." The Court of Special Appeals, in an unreported opinion, affirmed the Circuit Court's grant of summary judgment.


         We review for legal correctness a trial court's decision to grant a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Rounds v. Md.-Nat'l Capital Park & Planning Comm'n, 441 Md. 621, 635–36 (2015). At this stage, we shall assume the truth of those facts and allegations in the complaint, and all inferences reasonably drawn therefrom. Id. at 636.

         On appeal from the grant of summary judgment, we "independently review the record" to ascertain whether there is a genuine dispute of material fact and, "if not, whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Wells Fargo Home Mortg., Inc. v. Neal, 398 Md. 705, 714 (2007) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). When, as here, we discern no genuine dispute of material fact, [20] we must determine whether the trial court was legally correct in granting summary judgment, and accord the trial court's decision no deference. Id.


         With respect to both cases, we hold that there exists a limited form of social host liability sounding in negligence-based on the strong public policy reflected in CR § 10-117(b), but that it only exists when the adults in question act knowingly and willfully, as required by the statute. As we explain, infra, this knowing and willful requirement removes any issue of contributory negligence on the part of the underage drinker vis-à-vis his claim against the adult, even though the cause of action otherwise sounds in negligence. We address the specific questions presented in each case below.

         Case No. 55: Dankos

         We granted Dankos's Petition for Writ of Certiorari to address the following questions:[21]

1. Where the Court of Special Appeals found Stapf owed a duty of care to Steven arising from her alleged violation of CR § 10-117(b), did it err in concluding that Petitioners could not, as a matter of law, establish Stapf was the proximate cause of Steven's injuries?
2. Where Petitioners alleged that a special relationship existed between the youth on Stapf's property and Stapf, did the Court of Special Appeals err when [it] failed to recognize a cause of action arising from this special relationship based on its conclusion that Petitioners could not, as a matter of law, establish that Stapf was a proximate cause of Steven's death?

         Because we answer yes to the first question, we shall reverse without reaching the second question.

         All of the counts in Dankos's complaint sounded in negligence. A plaintiff bringing a negligence claim must establish four elements: "a duty owed to him (or to a class of which he is a part), a breach of that duty, a legally cognizable causal relationship between the breach of duty and the harm suffered, and damages." Jacques v. First Nat'l Bank of Md., 307 Md. 527, 531 (1986). Dankos contends that CR § 10-117(b) creates a legal duty for Stapf, a homeowner, to prevent Steven, a minor, from consuming alcohol on her premises.[22] Additionally, Dankos argues that because this duty arises out of a statute and not the common law, the proximate cause analysis is not governed by archaic common law cases such as State for Use of Joyce v. Hatfield, 197 Md. 249 (1951). In her view, the Circuit Court incorrectly granted the motion to dismiss because she properly alleged that Stapf was a proximate cause of Steven's injuries. First we address Stapf's duty to Dankos, and then we move to proximate causation.


         We have often explained that a statute or ordinance can prescribe a duty and that "'violation of the statute or ordinance is itself evidence of negligence.'" Blackburn Ltd. P'ship v. Paul, 438 Md. 100, 111 (2014) (quoting Brooks v. Lewin Realty III, Inc., 378 Md. 70, 78 (2003)). Under this rule ("the Statute or Ordinance Rule"), [23] Dankos must meet two prerequisites to establish a prima facie case in negligence: (1) show "the violation of a statute or ordinance designed to protect a specific class of persons [], and [(2)] that the violation proximately caused the injury complained of." Id. at 112 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The Statute or Ordinance Rule is not a means to establishing negligence per se but only prima facie evidence of negligence. See id. at 126; Polakoff v. Turner, 385 Md. 467, 478 (2005); cf. W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on Torts § 36, at 230 (5th ed. 1984) ("A large number of courts have held that a violation is only evidence of negligence, or prima facie evidence thereof, which may be accepted or rejected according to all of the evidence.").[24]

         Statute or Ordinance Rule: The Protected Class

         CR § 10-117, Dankos avers, is designed to protect a specific class of persons: people under 21 who are unrelated to the homeowner and who are not consuming alcohol for religious purposes. According to Stapf, Dankos misinterprets CR § 10-117(b)-the statute does not, in her mind, serve to protect a specific class of people. For support, Stapf draws upon the legislative history that indicates to her the General Assembly's concern with drinking and driving, a broad public problem. To resolve their dispute, we start with the cases discussing a doctrine we have called the Statute or Ordinance Rule-in aid of determining whether CR § 10-117 is sufficiently focused on a specific class to create a duty.

         In Brooks, 378 Md. at 78, the Court reviewed the history of the Statute or Ordinance Rule: "[a]lmost ninety years ago, our predecessors in Flaccomio v. Eysink, 129 Md. 367, 380 (1916), held that 'the violation of a statute . . . is itself sufficient to prove such a breach of duty as will sustain a private action for negligence, . . . and that the true rule in such cases is that the violation is presumptive evidence of negligence.'" (Citing cases spanning 50 years). This is a "well-settled Maryland common law rule [] long [] applied by this Court in negligence actions." Id.

         Brooks concerned a lead paint poisoning negligence action arising out of alleged violations of the Baltimore City Code, which mandated "removal of flaking, loose, or peeling paint." Id. at 82. Applying the Statute or Ordinance Rule, the Brooks Court explained that the plaintiff, a boy, was "obviously within a class of persons which the Housing Code was designed to protect." Id. at 81 (citing Brown v. Dermer, 357 Md. 344, 367 (2000)) ("Patently, by enacting §§ 702 and 703 of the Housing Code, the City Council sought to protect children from lead paint poisoning by putting landlords on notice of conditions which could enhance the risk of such injuries."). Reasoning that because the boy's "injury, lead poisoning, is the kind of injury intended to be prevented by the Code, " we held that he had established a prima facie case in negligence. Id. at 89.

         Blackburn is also instructive.[25] In Blackburn, 438 Md. at 125–26, we held that Code of Maryland Regulations ("COMAR") fences with certain specifications be maintained around swimming pools-protected a specific class of persons, namely, children under the age of five. Although the petitioners argued that the regulatory provision did not name a specific protected class, we disagreed because COMAR incorporated a code which identified such a class: "children in the most at-risk age group, less than five (5) years of age." Id. at 122–26 (emphasis omitted); see also Brooks, 378 Md. at 81 ("Patently, by enacting §§ 702 and 703 of the Housing Code, the City Council sought to protect children from lead paint poisoning by putting landlords on notice of conditions which could enhance the risk of such injuries.") (quoting Brown, 357 Md. at 367).

         In Warr v. JMGM Group, LLC, 433 Md. 170, 195–99 (2013), on the other hand, we held that the defendant tavern owners did not owe a duty to the plaintiffs under a criminal statute prohibiting the sale of alcohol to visibly intoxicated persons.[26] (Referring to Maryland Code (1957, 2011 Repl. Vol.), § 12-108(a)(1) of Article 2B). Our holding was grounded in our conclusion that the statute was part of a scheme designed to protect a general class of people: "[t]he statutes regulating the sale of alcohol and prohibiting its provision to those visibly intoxicated were enacted 'for the protection, health, welfare and safety of the people of this State.'" Id. at 198 (quoting Article 2B, § 1-101(a)(3)) (emphasis added).

         Relevant to this case, CR § 10-117(b) states that "an adult may not knowingly and willfully allow an individual under the age of 21 years actually to possess or consume an alcoholic beverage at a residence, or within the curtilage of a residence that the adult owns or leases and in which the adult resides." (Emphasis added.) The law holds adults criminally responsible for underage drinking under specific circumstances. Like the regulation in Blackburn, CR § 10-117(b) identifies a specific class that the General Assembly sought to protect: underage people exposed to alcohol. The text of the statute makes clear to us the General Assembly's concern for this specific class. See also Allen v. Dackman, 413 Md. 132, 156–57 (2010) (determining that the Housing Code was intended to protect "occupants of dwellings" because the code said so). We disagree with Stapf's assertion that CR § 10-117(b) "was not designed to protect a singular class of persons." Moreover, we do not hesitate to apply the Statute or Ordinance Rule on different facts than in prior cases because this is a rule of "broad applicability." Blackburn, 438 Md. at 115 (acknowledging the rule's applicability in the context of lead paint cases, sediment control regulations, and animal control statutes, among others).[27]

         Other courts have determined that underage persons constituted a protected class in statutes similar to CR § 10-117(b). See Newsome v. Haffner, 710 So.2d 184, 185–86 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1998) (concluding that a duty of care on adult social hosts arose out of a criminal statute because the law was "clearly designed to protect minors from the harm that could result from the consumption of alcohol"); Hansen v. Friend, 824 P.2d 483, 485–86 (Wash. 1992) ("[The statute] prohibits persons from furnishing liquor to a minor. The statute defines 'minor' as any person under the age of 21 years . . . . Hansen was 15 years old when the incident occurred and therefore was a member of the protected class."); Longstreth v. Gensel, 377 N.W.2d 804, 812–13 (Mich. 1985) ("Section 33 was meant to protect a class of persons, i.e., those under the legal drinking age, and this plaintiff falls within that class."); see also Estate of Hernandez by Hernandez-Wheeler v. Ariz. Bd. of Regents, 866 P.2d 1330, 1339 (Ariz. 1994) (statute criminalizing the furnishing of alcohol to an underage person); Sage v. Johnson, 437 N.W.2d 582, 583–85 (Iowa 1989) ("[A] minor injured as the result of consuming alcoholic beverages furnished in violation of Iowa Code section 123.47 is not necessarily precluded from pursuing a claim against the person furnishing the alcohol . . . ."); Congini by Congini v. Portersville Valve Co., 470 A.2d 515, 518 (Pa. 1983) ("Section 6308 of the Crimes Code represents an obvious legislative decision to protect minors and the public at large from the perceived deleterious effects of serving alcohol to persons under twenty-one years of age."); cf. Marcum v. Bowden, 643 S.E.2d 85, 89 (S.C. 2007) ("As other courts have explained, such exceptions logically require us to construe these 'giving' statutes to protect only the person under 21 who consumes the alcohol[] not the general public.").[28]

         In addition, Stapf points to out-of-state cases that do not give us pause because none of those cases are analogous in any meaningful way to this dispute. Coons v. Berry, 304 S.W.3d 215, 223 (Mo.Ct.App. 2009) (refusing to determine whether the statute was intended to protect a class of persons because the revised statute was enacted several years after the plaintiff filed her petition and could not be applied retroactively);[29] Pike v. Bugbee, 974 A.2d 743, 748–49 (Conn. App. Ct. 2009) (refusing to impose parental liability based upon a statute because the plaintiff failed to allege that the defendant was a minor as required by the statute); Willis v. Omar, 954 A.2d 126, 132 (R.I. 2008) (refusing to apply statute concerning "liquor licensees or their employees or agents" to other individuals); Farmers & Mech. Mut. Fire Ins. Co. of W.Va. v. Hutzler, 447 S.E.2d 22, 24–25 (W.Va. 1994) (recognizing merely that the relevant statute was inapplicable to the appellants- owners of property where alcohol was served-because the statute only applied to sellers of alcohol); Canady v. McLeod, 446 S.E.2d 879, 881–82 ( N.C. Ct. App. 1994) (affirming summary judgment against the plaintiff because the plaintiff lacked evidence to satisfy the substantial certainty test to prevail under North Carolina's Workers' Compensation Act).

         In conclusion, we hold that CR § 10-117(b) does protect a particular class of persons, that is, persons under 21. We now proceed to the second step in the Statute or Ordinance Rule analysis.

         Statute or Ordinance Rule: Proximate Cause

         Under the second prong of the Statute or Ordinance Rule, Dankos must show "that the violation proximately caused the injury complained of." Blackburn, 438 Md. at 112 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). To establish proximate cause in this context, Dankos must show that Steven "is within the class of persons sought to be protected [by the statute], and [that] the harm suffered is of a kind which the drafters intended the statute to prevent." Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Dankos contends that Steven, a minor, is a member of the class that CR § 10-117(b) seeks to protect, and that he also suffered the harm this statute is designed to prevent. That harm, in her view, is the risk or danger to which alcohol exposes underage persons.

         CR § 10-117(b) prohibits adults from allowing "an individual under the age of 21 years actually to possess or consume an alcoholic beverage." CR § 10-117(b). The statute seeks to prevent harm to underage persons as a result of their consumption of alcohol, as is repeatedly expressed in the legislative history for this statute. Those in support of the bill that became CR § 10-117(b) evinced a deep concern for the protection of underage people from alcohol and the risks alcohol poses to them and the loss of judgment that leads to risky behavior-like getting into a car with a fellow partygoer who is too impaired to drive.[30] Letter from Melvin Stern, Chair, Legis. Comm., Am. Acad. of Pediatrics, to Hon. Joseph F. Vallario, Jr., Chairman, H. Judiciary Comm. (Jan. 30, 1996) ("Not only does this [adult-sanctioned drinking by teens in their home] endanger the teen with the opportunity to display risky behaviors, but it tells the teen that underage drinking is acceptable."); Letter from Bonnie M. Holmes, Exec. Dir., Md. Underage Drinking Prevention Coal., to Hon. Joseph F. Vallario, Chairman, Jr., H. Judiciary Comm. (Feb. 7, 1996) ("Coalition members feel strongly that this bill will serve a great purpose by reducing the number of adult sanctioned underage drinking parties and the resulting often deadly consequences to our young people."); Md. Underage Drinking Prevention Coal., Legislation Fact Sheet: H.B. # 267, at 2 ("This bill makes adults responsible for monitoring the behavior of children and youth at their residence and prohibiting a dangerous and illegal behavior, underage drinking."). This review of the legislative history is quite at odds with Stapf's contention that there was no legislative "concern for the protection of underage non-drivers who are provided alcohol." See also Letter from Gail H. Ewing, President of the Montgomery Cnty. Council, to Hon. Joseph F. Vallario, Jr., Chairman, H. Judiciary Comm. (Feb. 14, 1996) ("The tragic story involving Tiffany Fouts, who was drunk, raped and left outside to die [of hypothermia], shows the consequences of adults who ignore underage drinking in their homes.").[31]

         Other jurisdictions have discerned that harm to underage persons exposed to alcohol is the harm that similar statutes have sought to prevent. See, e.g., Longstreth, 377 N.W.2d at 813 ("[The statute] was meant to protect against . . . . the dangerous effects of intoxication of those under twenty-one years of age."). In her complaint, Dankos alleged that Stapf violated CR § 10-117(b). She alleged that Steven was 17 and consuming alcohol on Stapf's property prior to the accident. She further alleged that Steven's "degree of intoxication" inhibited his ability to make a reasonable decision about how to leave the party. Finally, she alleged that Steven's death in the car accident was a direct, proximate result of Stapf's actions. In essence, Dankos alleges that Stapf allowed Steven to get so intoxicated that he might put himself in danger-the very harm that CR § 10-117(b) seeks to prevent. We conclude that Dankos has adequately pled the second prong, and thus, that she has adequately pled the duty and breach elements of negligence using the Statute or Ordinance Rule.[32]

         Proximate Cause

         We now consider whether she can survive the defense motion to dismiss on the issue of proximate cause. See Blackburn, 438 Md. at 126 (concluding, on review of motion for summary judgment, that there was a statutory duty, then noting that the plaintiff "must still produce facts that would allow a jury" to find causation). On this very contentious issue, the parties share one common view: a defendant's negligence is the proximate cause of a plaintiff's injury when the negligence is "(1) a cause in fact, and (2) a legally cognizable cause." CR-RSC Tower I, LLC v. RSC Tower I, LLC, 429 Md. 387, 428–29 (2012) (quoting Pittway Corp. v. Collins, 409 Md. 218, 243–46 (2009)).

         In Pittway, we discussed the proximate cause analysis at length. We noted that the first step, causation-in-fact, involves the determination of "who or what caused an action." Pittway, 409 Md. at 244. When an injury arises from "two or more independent negligent acts, " as in this case, we apply the substantial factor test. Id. Thus we ask "if it is 'more likely than not' that the defendant's conduct was a substantial factor in producing the [plaintiff's] injuries." Id. To determine what "substantial factor" means, we look to the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which we have adopted for this purpose. Id. at 244–45.

         Under the second step, legally cognizable cause, we "consider whether the actual harm to a litigant falls within a general field [of danger] that the actor should have anticipated or expected." Id. at 245. We have called legal causation "a policy-oriented doctrine" to limit liability to those instances where the actor deserves to be held liable. Id. In our consideration, we most often-but not exclusively-ask "whether the injuries were a foreseeable result of the negligent conduct." Id. at 246.

         The Common Law Rule in Hatfield

         Stapf contends that, under Hatfield, "Maryland law is clear that the proximate cause of injury is the actor's decision to drink." As Stapf reminds us, our appellate courts have time and again noted this common law proximate cause rule. See Hatfield, 197 Md. at 255. Thus, Stapf concludes, the "nexus between [her] acquiescence and [Steven's] death is far too remote to be considered a proximate cause."

         The Court in Hatfield stated that "[h]uman beings, drunk or sober, are responsible for their own torts. The law (apart from statute) recognizes no relation of proximate cause between a sale of liquor and a tort committed by a buyer who has drunk the liquor." Hatfield, 197 Md. at 254 (emphasis added). We recognize that the intoxicated person in Hatfield was, as Steven was, a minor. See Hatfield, 197 Md. at 251. But Hatfield was decided before the enactment of CR § 10-117(b). At the time of Hatfield, there was no law similar to CR § 10-117(b), which prohibits adults from allowing underage persons to drink alcohol on their property. The enactment of CR § 10-117(b) reflects a determination by the General Assembly that more protection of youths from alcohol was needed.

         In Ely v. Murphy, 540 A.2d 54, 55, 58 (Conn. 1988), the Supreme Court of Connecticut concluded that an underage person's consumption of alcohol at a house party did not immunize the hosts for the injuries that the underage person caused another guest. Among other things, state law criminalized furnishing alcohol to minors by social hosts. Id. at 57. This and other state laws, the court explained, constituted a "legislative determination that minors are incompetent to assimilate responsibly the effects of alcohol and lack the legal capacity to do so." Id. at 58. Because of this legislative framework, the Ely court distinguished the premise of the common law proximate cause rule with respect to underage persons: "The proposition that intoxication results from the voluntary conduct of the person who consumes intoxicating liquor assumes a knowing and intelligent exercise of choice, and for that reason is more applicable to adults than to minors." Id. at 57 (emphasis added).

         Many jurisdictions, in addition to Connecticut, agree that underage persons lack full adult capacity to handle alcohol. See Marcum, 643 S.E.2d at 89 ("While underage persons have full social and civil rights, we find the public policy of this State treats these individuals as lacking full adult capacity to make informed decisions concerning the ingestion of alcoholic beverages."); Newsome, 710 So.2d at 185 ("The statute makes a violation of this provision a criminal offense, and is clearly designed to protect minors from the harm that could result from the consumption of alcohol or drugs by those who are too immature to appreciate the potential consequences."); Hansen, 824 P.2d at 486 ("The Legislature believed that persons under 21 years of age are neither physically nor mentally equipped to handle the consumption of intoxicating liquor."); DiOssi v. Maroney, 548 A.2d 1361, 1368 (Del. 1988) ("The longstanding legislative restriction on the dispensing of alcoholic beverages to minors in Delaware attests to a settled public policy that minors are not deemed free agents in the decision to consume intoxicating beverages or, having done so, are not solely responsible for the harmful consequences of such overindulgence.");[33]Congini by Congini, 470 A.2d at 517 ("[O]ur legislature has made a legislative judgment that persons under twenty-one years of age are incompetent to handle alcohol . . . . This legislative judgment compels a different result than Klein [v. Raysinger, 470 A.2d 507 (Pa. 1983)], for here we are not dealing with ordinary able bodied men."); cf. Sage, 437 N.W.2d at 584 ("A minor consumer of alcoholic beverages should not automatically be precluded from recovering damages resulting from the effects of alcohol" because such persons, "particularly those who are very young or immature, cannot be said to have been so negligent or to have assumed so much of the risk involved . . . .").

         We do not go so far as the courts reaching the bald conclusions that minors under the age of 21, as a group, are not "free agents, " or "are not legally competent to handle alcohol, " or that they "are incompetent to assimilate responsibly the effects of alcohol, " or that they "are neither physically nor mentally equipped to handle the consumption of intoxicating liquor." We view CR § 10-117(b) as a recognition by the General Assembly, based on convincing evidence, that children under 21 are often less able to make responsible decisions regarding the consumption of alcohol and, as a result, are more susceptible to harming themselves or others when presented with the opportunity to drink in excess in a social, peer-pressured setting. It therefore carved out that specific class for special protection against adult social hosts who knowingly and willfully allow consumption of alcoholic beverages on their property.

         At least two conclusions relevant to the cases before us flow from that legislative recognition and determination. First, upon a finding that the social host defendant knowingly and willfully allowed a member of the protected class to consume alcohol on the host's premises in violation of the statute, in an action against the social host brought by or on behalf of the minor or, as in the Kiriakos case, by an injured third party, such conduct-if it substantially contributed to a diminution of the underaged person's ability to act in a reasonable manner, and thereby caused injury-can be found to be a substantial factor in bringing about the harm to the underage person himself or to a third party. See Eagle-Picher Indus., Inc. v. Balbos, 326 Md. 179, 208–09 (1992) (enunciating substantial-factor causation rule). This conclusion partakes both of the duty and proximate cause components of an action based on negligence. Second, contributory negligence is not a defense in an action by a protected class member against a social host defendant. That is as far as we need to go in these cases.

         Other courts have ruled that a social host claim does not fail as a matter of law on the issue of proximate cause. See Estate of Hernandez by Hernandez-Wheeler, 866 P.2d at 1341 ("A minor is similar to an adult who has diminished judgment and capacity to control his alcohol consumption . . . . Nor are considerations of proximate causation a reason to conclude there is no liability as a matter of law in all cases."); DiOssi, 548 A.2d at 1368 (determining the case on premises liability but also concluding that a minor's voluntary consumption of alcohol is not an intervening cause sufficient to relieve a social host of liability to a third party); Ely, 540 A.2d at 58 ("[L]ogic dictates that their [minors'] consumption of alcohol does not, as a matter of law, constitute the intervening act necessary to break the chain of proximate causation and does not, as a matter of law, insulate one who provides alcohol to minors from liability for ensuing injury."); Longstreth, 377 N.W.2d at 813–14 (rejecting the traditional rule that the drinking of alcohol is the proximate cause of the injury); Koback v. Crook, 366 N.W.2d 857, 859–61 (Wisc. 1985) (same), superseded by statute on other grounds, 1985 Wis. Sess. Laws 625, Wis.Stat. Ann. § 125.035; see also Linn v. Rand, 356 A.2d 15, 19 (N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. 1976) ("[A] social host who serves excessive amounts of alcoholic beverages to a visibly intoxicated minor, knowing the minor was about to drive a car on the public highways, could reasonably foresee or anticipate an accident or injury as a reasonably foreseeable consequence of his negligence in serving the minor.").

         We view CR § 10-117(b) as a substantial development in the law from the days of Hatfield. Guided by the statute, we conclude that Steven's decision to drink did not render the nexus between Stapf's conduct and his death too remote to preclude Stapf's conduct, as a matter of law, from being considered a proximate cause of his death. Accordingly, the common law rule in Hatfield poses no bar to a claim of social host liability predicated on CR § 10-117(b) for injuries to a minor intoxicated on the adult's property.[34]


         In examining causation-in-fact, we are mindful that proximate cause is ordinarily a jury question. Lashley v. Dawson, 162 Md. 549, 562 (1932) ("The true rule is that what is proximate cause of an injury is ordinarily a question for the jury."); see also Pittway, 409 Md. at 253 ("It is well established that, 'unless the facts admit of but one inference . . . the determination of proximate cause . . . is for the jury.'") (citation omitted).[35]

         As we discussed, we engage here in the substantial factor inquiry that we adopted from the Restatement (Second) of Torts. See Eagle-Picher Indus., Inc. v. Balbos, 326 Md. 179, 208–09 (1992). The Second Restatement provides several factors that bear on the substantial factor inquiry:

(a)the number of other factors which contribute in producing the harm and the extent of the effect which they have in producing it;
(b)whether the actor's conduct has created a force or series of forces which are in continuous and active operation up to the time of the harm, or has created a situation harmless unless acted upon by ...

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