PITTSBURGH – One of the defendants named in a wrongful death civil lawsuit by the estate of Codi Joyce argues he was improperly denied summary judgment by the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas last month, in light of an admission that Joyce supplied alcohol to the party where he later died.
Originally named in the lawsuit were six individuals – Devin Hinkle, Ryan Sabo, Connor Stevens, Derek R. Marcone, Jessica Lentz and Daniel J. Lentz – who the family of Joyce claim were all involved in his death in some form or other.
Joyce, a 23 year-old man, was allegedly beaten at a house party in 2015 in Munhall, found unresponsive and later died at a hospital.
The formal complaint filed by Joyce’s father, John J. Joyce, stated that Jessica Lentz was the host of frequent parties at her residence owned by Daniel J. Lentz (her father) who gave her permission to do so. The residence allegedly was known as a place for “younger individuals” to drink. One such party was held on Sept. 27, 2015, and Joyce was in attendance, the suit stated.
Around 1 a.m., Joyce allegedly got into an altercation with Stevens over a Hot Pocket, escalating to the co-defendant, along with the help of Sabo, Hinkle and Marcone, beating and choking Joyce to death. The suit stated that it was determined that cause of death was the result of a multi-system trauma to areas including the head, spine and abdomen.
The suit stated that Hinkle and Stevens were responsible for the choking while Stevens, Marcone, and Sabo “repeatedly and violently” beat the decedent. Hinkle allegedly also sustained bite mark defensive wounds in the assault.
After the attack, Marcone checked Joyce’s pulse and could not find a heartbeat, the suit claimed.
The attackers, as well as the party’s host, allegedly failed to call the police and even went so far as to tell other party guests not to call 911. Emergency services were eventually called by neighbors who had heard the commotion of the party, the suit said.
Additionally, Sabo allegedly texted a woman stating that he and Hinkle had killed Joyce. Sabo also sent a picture with tear drops drawn onto his eye, similar to a gang symbol donned by individuals who have committed murder, the suit stated.
On Feb. 19, Allegheny County Judge Arnold I. Klein denied such motions of summary judgment filed by defendants Daniel J. Lentz and Jessica Lentz, who had sought all claims against them to be dismissed in their entirety and with prejudice.
In the summary judgment motions, the Lentzes tried to dismiss claims of negligence, wrongful death and civil conspiracy filed against them by the family of decedent Joyce.
The Lentzes argued the plaintiff produced no testimony or evidence that they had knowledge of a party taking place at their home or that they gave alcohol to a minor, no evidence that they had a duty to prevent harm to Joyce and that they cannot be held liable for conspiracy when, in Daniel’s case, he was not present before, during or after the altercation which killed Joyce, and in Jessica’s case, tried to stop the altercation.
But, Klein’s ruling denied this attempt and the claims against them stand.
However, on March 12, counsel for Daniel Lentz filed a motion to reconsider the denial of summary judgment – with the reconsideration motion predicated on the argument that Joyce’s estate admitting the decedent brought alcohol to the party where he was killed negated the prior motion denial.
“Prior to the denial of Mr. Lentz’s motion for summary judgment, plaintiff filed a supplemental brief admitting that plaintiff-decedent had supplied the alcohol to the minors at the party where the alleged incident took place. The supplemental brief was filed on or about Feb. 12, 2020,” the reconsideration motion stated, in part.
“In light of the plaintiff’s admission, defendant Daniel J. Lentz requests this Honorable Court reconsider its denial of his motion for summary judgment.”
The motion went on to state that Joyce’s own negligence was the cause of his death.
“Plaintiff has admitted that Codi Joyce, who was over 21 years of age at the time of the incident, provided alcohol to minors the night of the accident. It is also undisputed that Codi Joyce was the only individual over the age of 21 at the residence the night of the incident,” according to the reconsideration motion.
“It is also undisputed that Codi Joyce not only supplied the alcohol to the minors but was present and partying with the minors observing them drinking and becoming intoxicated. Therefore, Codi Joyce is solely responsible for his death under social host liability.”
Counsel for Lentz said the argument that Joyce, an adult, came to the home of Daniel Lentz, provided alcohol to minors, watched as minors become visibly intoxicated and instigated a fight, that it was Daniel Lentz, who was not present, that is liable for failing to protect him is “facetious.”
Joyce’s estate is seeking $7 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.
Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas case GD-17-007065
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at email@example.com