Klar v. Dairy Farmers of Am., 2023 Pa. LEXIS 1112, 2023 WL 5354105 (S. Ct. August 22, 2023) (Wecht, J.) In Pennsylvania, civil liability arising from the provision of alcohol to visibly intoxicated persons lies at an intersection of statutory and decisional law. This case calls upon us to revisit precedents that have prevailed for half a century and that impose such liability upon persons and entities licensed to engage in the commercial sale of alcohol while limiting the liability of non-licensees and “social hosts.” The lower courts applied these precedents to conclude that an organization which hosted an event at which alcohol was provided, but was not a liquor licensee, could not be held liable for injuries caused by a guest who became intoxicated at the event. Finding no basis to disturb the long-settled law of Pennsylvania, we affirm. We agree with Klar that a non-licensee can assume what he calls a “licensee status” by engaging in the unlawful commercial or quasi-commercial sale of alcohol. Under our interpretation, such conduct does not require a special name, but rather, by ejusdem generis, simply places the non-licensee into the category of “any other person” within the meaning of the Dram Shop Act. But Klar does not benefit from our agreement in principle, because the facts that he pleaded do not establish the sort of “remuneration” that Manning envisioned and that we conclude is necessary to subject a non-licensee to the requirements of the Dram Shop Act. Klar has never suggested that DFA collected the funds from its employees in order to profit from the sale of alcohol. The facts pleaded in no way suggest that, by organizing a social function for its employees, DFA sought to enter the liquor trade. By averring that DFA asked its employees for a “monetary contribution to offset costs and expenses” of the golf outing, Klar dispelled any suggestion that DFA organized the event in order to sell alcohol for financial gain. Moreover, when Klar characterizes the alcohol at the event as available to all of the attendees on a “self-serve, drink-all-you-want basis,” and states that the “beer was placed in portable coolers for participants to serve themselves,” he describes a scenario that differs markedly from anything resembling the commercial sale of alcohol. Although Klar has sought to portray DFA’s conduct as nefarious or of questionable legality, the facts that he pleaded establish a social commonplace—pooling money to purchase party supplies for all of the attendees to share and enjoy. The fact that those provisions included beer did not transform DFA into a de facto commercial beer distributor. Should we conclude, as we have, that Klar is unable to resort to the Dram Shop Act in his action against DFA, he seeks recourse in the common law of negligence. He fares no better in that realm. At common law, Klar’s position is foreclosed by longstanding and well-established precedent that we find no reason to disturb. We have “adopted the default position that, unless the justifications for and consequences of judicial policymaking are reasonably clear with the balance of factors favorably predominating, we will not impose new affirmative duties.” Indeed, “before a change in the law is made, a court, if it is to act responsibly must be able to see with reasonable clarity the results of its decision and to say with reasonable certainty that the change will serve the best interests of society.” As discussed above in the context of the Dram Shop Act, the expansion of potential civil liability to all persons in this Commonwealth who host a gathering involving alcohol would be a policy decision of vast magnitude, the consequences and costs of which would be significant, widespread, and not entirely predictable. Ordinary people do not undertake the legal duties and social obligations of liquor licensees merely by hosting a party, not even if they purchase alcohol together or reimburse each other for it. To the extent that Klar suggests that the proposed duty could be restricted to employers, and that an employment relationship imposes some increased obligation vis-à-vis the provision of alcohol, we find no common-law basis for such a distinction when neither employer nor employee are engaged in the business of selling alcohol. As such, we decline Klar’s invitation to modify the common law of social host liability. The lower courts did not err in concluding that DFA’s act of purchasing and providing beer for the golf outing was insufficient, as a matter of law, to trigger civil liability exposure for the injuries caused by its intoxicated guest. This result is the same under both the Dram Shop Act and common-law negligence. As we did a half-century ago in Manning, we defer to the General Assembly, and remind that, if our interpretation of the Dram Shop Act is inconsistent with the legislature’s intent, or if it wishes to supersede the approach that we apply under the common law, it may amend the statute accordingly.
The order of the Superior Court is affirmed.
Chief Justice Todd and Justices Donohue, Dougherty and Brobson join the opinion.