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Melton v. Boustred

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Citation Edit

Melton v. Boustred, 183 Cal.App.4th 521, 107 Cal.Rptr.3d 481 (Cal. App. 2010) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

Defendant Clive Bousted held a party at his house complete with music and alcohol, which he advertised through an open invitation on MySpace.com. Plaintiffs were attacked, beaten, and stabbed by a group of unknown individuals after arriving at the party and brought suit against defendant for negligence, premises liability, and public nuisance.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

The trial court sustained the defendant’s demurrer without leave to amend and the plaintiffs filed this appeal.

The elements of a cause of action for negligence are duty, breach, causation, and damages. California Civil Code §1714, subd. (a) states that:

Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person, except so far as the latter has, willfully or by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself or herself.

In interpreting this statute, courts have balances a number of considerations, such as the foreseeability of harm to a plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, the extent of the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise case with resulting liability for breach, and the moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct.

Foreseeability and the extent of the burden to the defendant are ordinarily the crucial considerations.[1] When analyzing duty in the context of third party acts, a legal duty may arise from affirmative acts (misfeasance), but rarely from nonfeasance. As a general rule, there is no duty to act as a “Good Samaritan” to protect others with whom you have no relation.

Plaintiffs allege that defendant’s use of MySpace to promote his party “constitute an unlimited, unrestricted and widely broadcast party invitation to the general public to converge at defendants [sic] property.” They contend that defendant knew, or should have known, that such an open invitation would expose plaintiffs to an unreasonable risk of bodily harm arising from unregulated advertisement of an event involving alcohol and live music without restriction on the number or identity of participants and with no attempt to provide security. Plaintiffs approached a situation that has been litigated numerous times in the past without a finding of liability, namely a house party, and offer the new factor of a MySpace invitation to impose “active conduct” on the part of the property owner.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

The appellate court upheld the lower court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims and held that no legal duty existed in this case because defendant did not create the peril that injured plaintiffs. Defendant may have organized the party and sent out the invitation but physical violence to plaintiffs was not a necessary component of throwing the party and those injuries were not caused by any affirmative act of defendant. Further, there was no special relationship between plaintiffs and defendant that would give rise to a legal duty and the physical attack was not reasonably foreseeable. While it was foreseeable that many people would attend an open invitation to listen to music and drink free alcohol, the connection between drunk party-goers and unprovoked physical violence against plaintiffs is too tenuous for a showing of liability. Unfortunately for plaintiffs, in the case of criminal conduct by a third party there is a heightened threshold for foreseeability and while it may seem likely that drunk strangers in your house will cause problems, “common sense is not the standard for determining duty.”[2]

The court similarly dismissed plaintiffs’ arguments to require security or a method of verifying the identity of attendees finding those measures to be unduly burdensome to defendant and not necessarily preventative of the attack plaintiffs suffered. Ultimately this case is no different than other cases of injury caused by third parties at social gatherings. Plaintiffs attempted to differentiate their situation on the basis of an open invitation sent through the internet but that act failed to meet the standard required for finding liability on the part of defendant.

References Edit

  1. Castaneda v. Olsher, 41 Cal.4th 1205, 1213, 63 Cal.Rptr.3d 99, 162 P.3d 610 (2007)(full-text).
  2. Saelzler v. Advanced Group 400, 25 Cal.4th 763, 778, 107 Cal.Rptr.2d 617, 23 P.3d 1143 (2001)(full-text).

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