Maryland High Court Grants Rapid Review of Underage Drinking Liability
Update (9/8/2015): I have since learned that the grant in Davis v. Stapf was not an “own motion” grant. Rather, before the Court of Special Appeals filed its opinion, the plaintiff filed a petition asking the Court of Appeals to consider Davis v. Stapf along with a similar case (Manal Kiriakos v. Brandon Phillips, Case No. 20, September Term, 2015) where certiorari was granted in March. Still, it remains interesting that the Davis v. Stapf opinion prompted the Court of Appeals to grant certiorari outside of its normal conference schedule.
Yesterday saw unusual and fast action by the Court of Appeals of Maryland in a major case on liability for serving alcohol to minors. In an August 26 opinion in Davis v. Stapf, the Court of Special Appeals ruled against the estate of a 17-year-old passenger killed in an auto accident following a party. The decedent, who riding in the bed of a pickup truck, and the 22-year-old driver were both intoxicated. The panel majority (in an opinion by Judge Graeff and joined by Chief Judge Krauser) found that the party’s host, who served the minor alcohol in violation of Criminal Law § 10-117(b), owed no statutory duty of care to the minor that could result in tort liability. Judge Nazarian concurred, believing that the fact the minor was not the driver cut the chain of causation.
Yesterday, just eight days after the CSA’s opinion, the Court of Appeals of Maryland issued a single grant of certiorari, outside its normal schedule:
Nancy Davis, et al. v. Linda Stapf – Case No. 55, September Term, 2015
Issues – Torts – 1) Are minors intended protectees of CL § 10-117(b), which prohibits adult property owners from allowing minors to consume alcoholic beverages on their premises? 2) Does MD recognize a duty of care arising from the special relationship between a parent hosting an underage drinking party on her property and a minor attendee who the parent permitted to attend and consume excessive amounts of alcohol?
I’ll make two quick observations. First, this grant is somewhat surprising, given that just two years ago the Court of Appeals declined to adopt dram shop liability. Second, Chief Judge Barbera, who joined the majority opinion in the dram shop case, last year ended the practice of routinely granting certiorari on the Court’s own motion. But, as I noted when Chief Judge Barbera disbanded the Bypass Committee, “the Court of course still retains statutory authority for own-motion grants in unusual cases.” This case was not a true bypass, in that the Court of Special Appeals did issue an opinion. But it does highlight that the Court of Appeals carefully reviews the published opinions of the Court of Special Appeals and will not hesitate to take an important case on its own motion.