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Garofalo v. Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, L. Vern Robinson, Judge.

Plaintiffs appeal adverse summary judgments for all but one defendant in wrongful death action against fraternity and two of its members.


Considered en banc.

The principal question on this appeal is whether a "special relationship" exists between a fraternity and its members so as to create a legal duty of care, actionable in tort, when a young initiate's excessive drinking results in death. The district court concluded as a matter of law that no such duty exists under the material facts of this case. It therefore dismissed, on summary judgment, plaintiffs' wrongful death action against their son's national fraternity, its local chapter, and one of his fraternity brothers.

Having now considered the arguments on appeal, a majority of this court affirms dismissal of the action against Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity and Timothy Reier. The district court's decision to dismiss Lambda Chi Alpha University of Iowa Chapter stands affirmed by operation of law. See Iowa Code § 602.4107 (1999). We remand the case for further proceedings against the remaining defendant, Chad Diehl.

I. Scope of Review

Because this case reaches us on appeal from entry of summary judgment, well-settled rules guide our review. We, like the district court, are obliged to view the factual record in the light most favorable to the resisting party, affording that party all reasonable inferences that the record will bear. Hildenbrand v. Cox, 369 N.W.2d 411, 413 (Iowa 1985). Summary judgment is proper only if the record made shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Iowa R. Civ. P. 237(c). "If the conflict in the record concerns only the legal consequences flowing from undisputed facts, entry of summary judgment is proper." Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Milne, 424 N.W.2d 422, 423 (Iowa 1988). Whether a particular duty arises out of the parties' relationships is a matter of law properly resolved in a summary judgment proceeding. Tenney v. Atlantic Assocs., 594 N.W.2d 11, 15 (Iowa 1999); Kelly v. Sinclair Oil Corp., 476 N.W.2d 341, 354 (Iowa 1991). Our review, therefore, is for the correction of errors at law. Sankey v. Richenberger, 456 N.W.2d 206, 207 (Iowa 1990).

With these principles in mind, we turn to the record made before the district court. That record consists of the pleadings, deposition testimony, written institutional policies, and investigative reports of police officers and university officials.

II. Facts

Appellants Edward and Monica Garofalo are the parents of MattGarofalo, now deceased, who was an associate member of Lambda Chi Alpha, a national fraternity with a local chapter in Iowa City, Iowa. Matt was nineteen and a sophomore at the University of Iowa when he died from pulmonary edema caused by aspiration of his gastric contents after consuming excessive quantities of beer and hard liquor. Matt consumed the alcohol following a "Big Brother/Little Brother" ceremony at the fraternity house.

The ceremony took place at about 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 7, 1995. It lasted fifteen to twenty minutes, followed a script, and culminated in the introduction of each new pledge to his "big brother." The purpose was to establish a mentoring relationship that would last throughout the pledge year. Attendance at the ceremony was not mandatory but most, if not all, of the me

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