McClellan v. Tottenhoff

In McClellan v. Tottenhoff, 666 P.2d 408 (Wyo. 1983) "the sole issue on appeal was whether a complaint against a vendor unlawfully selling liquor to a minor in his automobile at a liquor drive-in facility who becomes intoxicated and injures a third-party states a claim for relief in Wyoming." Id. at 409. The McClellans' complaint alleged that the liquor vendor's employee, making no effort to check the identification of James Staatz, a 17-year-old who looked young, negligently sold liquor to Staatz who was in his automobile at the liquor vendor's drive-in window; Staatz became intoxicated and killed Chad McClellan in an automobile accident. Id. at 409, 414. The district court had dismissed the McClellans' complaint for failure to state a legally cognizable tort claim under Wyoming law. Id. at 409. Relying upon the common law's inherent dynamic principle which allows the judicially-created common law to grow and to tailor itself to meet society's changing needs and relying upon the reasoning of common law decisions from courts in Illinois, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Oregon, the Court as a common law court established a liquor vendor's common law duty of reasonable care owed to third-parties injured by an intoxicated underage vendee. Id. at 411-12. In legal effect, then, the Court established a common law tort claim upon which relief could be granted against a liquor vendor and in favor of an injured third-party. The Court based the liquor vendor's duty of reasonable care upon both 12-5-301(a)(v) and 12-6-101(a), W.S. 1977. Id. at 412-13. Section 12-5-301(a)(v) proscribed as a misdemeanor a liquor licensee's receiving a liquor order from or making a liquor delivery to a minor or an intoxicated person in a drive-in area of the licensed premises. Section 12-6-101(a) proscribed as a misdemeanor a liquor provider's furnishing of liquor to an underage person who was not the liquor provider's legal ward, medical patient, or immediate family member. Id. at 413. The Court held that violation of either section was evidence of negligence. Id. Addressing the element of proximate cause, the Court noted that that element's well-settled meaning in negligence law was appropriate in the context of a violation of either a non-statutory or statutory duty, the ultimate test being whether the liquor licensee could foresee injury to a third-party, which was a question of fact. Id. at 414.