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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides two today, so far

In F. John Rogers, as Personal Representative of Paul Michalik, Deceased, and R. David Boyer, Trustee of the Bankruptcy Estate of Jerry Lee Chambers v. Angela Martin and Brian Paul Brothers, a 16-page, 5-0 opinion, Chief Justice Rush writes:

Angela Martin and Brian Brothers co-hosted a house party. As it wound down, Brothers and two guests—Jerry Chambers and Paul Michalik—got into a fistfight. Afterwards, Martin found Jerry Chambers bleeding from his face and Paul Michalik lying motionless on her basement floor. Michalik died shortly thereafter.

Chambers’s bankruptcy trustee and Michalik’s estate sued Martin, claiming, in part, that she negligently caused Michalik’s injuries and that she furnished alcohol in violation of Indiana’s Dram Shop Act. Martin filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted.

Applying principles of premises liability law, we first hold that summary judgment was improper on the negligence claim. As a landowner, Martin owed her invitee Michalik a duty to exercise reasonable care for his protection while he was on her premises. This Court has, on several occasions, decided how this general landowner–invitee duty applies in various circumstances— with foreseeability being the determinative question. Bearing that in mind, we conclude that although Martin had no duty to protect Michalik from the unforeseeable fistfight, she did have a duty to protect him from the foreseeable exacerbation of an injury occurring in her home. Whether she breached this duty by going back to bed instead of taking some affirmative action, like dialing 911, is a question of fact. We therefore reverse summary judgment on the negligence claim.

Summary judgment was proper, however, on the Dram Shop Act claim. Under Indiana’s Dram Shop Act, a person does not “furnish” alcohol by providing it to someone who already possesses it. And here, because Martin and Brothers jointly paid for and possessed the same beer, Martin could not furnish it to Brothers. We thus affirm summary judgment on that claim. * * *

Conclusion. We find that summary judgment was improper on the negligence claim as there remains a question of fact as to whether Martin breached the landowner–invitee “duty to protect” owed to Michalik. However, summary judgment was appropriate on plaintiffs’ Dram Shop Act claim because the plain meaning of “furnish” within the Act requires that Martin have transferred possession of the alcohol to Brothers, which she could not do, as they jointly possessed the beer in question. Accordingly, we affirm summary judgment in part and reverse in part.

In April Goodwin, Tiffany Randolph and Javon Washington v. Yeakle's Sports Bar and Grill, Inc., a 14-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Rucker writes:
Patrons injured after a shooting in a neighborhood bar sued the bar for negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in the bar’s favor concluding it owed no duty to the patrons because the shooting was not foreseeable as a matter of law. For the reasons that follow we agree and affirm. * * *

Conclusion. In a negligence action, whether a duty exists is a question of law for the court to decide. And in those instances where foreseeability is an element of duty, this necessarily means the court must determine the question of foreseeability as a matter of law. When doing so the court is tasked with engaging in a general analysis of the broad type of plaintiff and harm involved without regard to the facts of the actual occurrence. Here, focusing on the facts of this case, the trial court employed a now-discarded analytical tool in determining the question of foreseeability. But we review questions of law de novo. Engaging in such review we conclude the trial court properly granted summary judgment in the Bar’s favor. We therefore affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 26, 2016 10:15 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions