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Michael Ruiz et al v. Safeway

October 12, 2012

MICHAEL RUIZ ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
SAFEWAY, INC., DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



Superior Court of the County of Sonoma, No. SCV245045, Elliott Daum, Judge. Super.Ct.No. SCV-245045

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jones, P.J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

(Sonoma County)

Appellants Michael and Lydia Ruiz filed a complaint against Safeway, Inc., (Safeway) under Business and Professions Code section 25602.1,*fn1 seeking damages for their son's death in a car accident. Safeway filed a motion for summary judgment arguing it was entitled to prevail, as a matter of law, because it did not furnish or cause to be furnished alcohol to the minor who caused the accident within the meaning of the statute. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment to Safeway. Appellants now appeal contending the trial court interpreted section 25602.1 incorrectly. We disagree and will affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On February 14, 2009, appellants' son Alexander was killed when his car was struck by a vehicle driven by an 18-year-old alleged drunk driver named Dylan Morse. Appellants sought to hold Safeway responsible for their son's death because shortly before the accident, a checker at one of Safeway's stores sold a 12-pack of beer to Morse's passenger at the time of the accident, Ryne Spitzer. The essential facts are as follows.

Spitzer was a student at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park. Spitzer and Morse apparently were friends and on February 13, 2009, they made plans to attend a fraternity party. Spitzer and Morse drank beer and rum both before and during the fraternity party. The party was broken up by the police around midnight.

Spitzer and Morse returned to the dorms and sometime thereafter, Spitzer suggested they buy more beer. Morse agreed and he drove both of them to a nearby Safeway store arriving shortly before 2:00 a.m.

Spitzer and Morse entered the store and went to the beer aisle. After making their selection, Spitzer and Morse returned to the checkout counter and Spitzer placed the beer on the belt. Spitzer and Morse stood next to each other and chatted with other customers as they waited in line. Spitzer moved forward to pay for the beer when it was his turn. The checker, Amy Gonzalez, who had 12 years of experience, scanned the beer. The store's computer system recognized that alcohol was being sold and reminded Gonzalez that the purchaser must be at least 21 years of age. Gonzalez asked Spitzer for identification. He gave her a California driver's license that indicated he was more than 21 years old. The license had not expired and Spitzer's features matched those on the photograph. The license also included a hologram, something Gonzalez knew was a feature on genuine licenses that are issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Detecting nothing that indicated the license was not genuine and currently in effect, Gonzales went forward with the sale. In fact, the license was forged.

Spitzer paid for the beer using his check card. The store's system processed the transaction and issued Spitzer a receipt. Spitzer and Morse then left the store, Spitzer carrying the beer in his hand.

Spitzer put the beer in the back of Morse's car and Morse began to drive back to Sonoma State. At one point, Spitzer took one of the bottles out of the box and handed it to Morse who estimated he drank about half of it as he drove. Shortly thereafter, Morse allegedly caused the car accident that led to the death of appellants' son.

Based on these facts, appellants filed a complaint seeking damages for wrongful death against Morse, Spitzer, and Safeway. As amended and as is relevant here, the complaint alleged Safeway was liable because it violated section 25602.1 which makes it illegal to sell, furnish, or give, or cause to be sold, furnished, or given, alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor. Appellants alleged Safeway violated the statute by furnishing or causing beer to be furnished to Morse.

Safeway filed a motion for summary judgment arguing it was entitled to prevail, as a matter of law because (1) it did not furnish or cause beer to be furnished to Morse, and (2) even if it did, neither Morse nor Spitzer was "obviously intoxicated" when Spitzer purchased the beer on the night in question.

The trial court conducted a hearing on the motion and ruled there was "a triable issue of fact as to the question of whether Ryne Spitzer and/or Dylan Morse were 'obviously intoxicated minors' within the meaning of . . . [section] 25602.1 . . . ." However, the court went on to rule there was "no triable issue of fact as to whether Safeway . . . engaged in '. . . selling, furnishing, giving, or causing to be sold, furnished or given away . . .' alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor, in ...


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