On March 1, 2015, Brett Weichers (Plaintiff) was assaulted by two men who had consumed alcohol at several establishments, including Tony’s La Pizzeria (Defendant). Plaintiff filed a dram shop suit against Defendant (and two other bars) seeking damages for the injuries he sustained from the assault and alleging that Defendant ‘“sold and/or served beer, wine, alcoholic beverages, and/or intoxicating liquor’ to the two men who assaulted him, ‘knowing they were intoxicated or would become intoxicated.’” Defendant was first notified of the dram shop claim on January 14, 2017. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that Plaintiff failed to give timely notice of his drop shop claim. The district court denied Defendant’s motion for summary judgment and defendant appealed.
On February 6, 2019, in 2–1 decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling and remanded the case for entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendant. In support of its decision, the Court held that, Plaintiff’s dram shop claim against Defendant was barred because Plaintiff failed to comply with Iowa’s six-month notice provision. See Iowa Code § 123.92(3) (2015). The Court reasoned that it was undisputed that Plaintiff knew Defendant’s name well within the six-month deadline yet failed to give Defendant notice of the dram shop claim. Plaintiff argued that the notice deadline should be extended under the “reasonable diligence” standard. Under this provision, an extension may be warranted if Plaintiff was unable, “through reasonable diligence, to find out who is the prospective dram shop defendant[.]” The court rejected Plaintiff’s argument, reiterating that Plaintiff knew Defendant’s name well-within the six-month period, and that knowledge was sufficient to defeat the “reasonable diligence” ground for extending the deadline. Thus, the Court concluded that the “reasonable diligence” basis for extending the statutory deadline did not apply, and Defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Justice Doyle disagreed with the majority’s opinion, stating that Plaintiff’s mere knowledge of Defendant’s name did not justify the Court’s grant of summary judgment. He believed the Court’s interpretation of the “reasonable diligence” standard conflicts with the legislature’s intent to liberally construe the dram shop statute “in order to further the legislature’s purpose of discouraging serving excessive liquor to patrons.”
Weichers v. Bourbon St. Bar & Grill, Inc., No. 17-1960 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 6, 2019).