Pennsylvania’s junior appellate court has upheld a trial court’s ruling that affirmed the state Liquor Control Board’s decision not to grant a liquor license renewal to a private club that has been the subject of police activity and other problems.
In an April 13 order filed by Commonwealth Court Senior Judge James Gardner Colins, the appellate panel affirmed a ruling by Lehigh County’s Court of Common Pleas that affirmed a decision by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to deny a liquor license renewal to the Allentown, Pa.-based St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Russian Aid Society.
Background information on the case shows that the business, also known as “Club Pachanga,” had filed a renewal application for its liquor license with the LCB in May 2010.
The LCB’s Bureau of Licensing objected to the renewal request due to the club’s history of disturbances and various incidents of liquor code violations.
A hearing examiner eventually recommended that the liquor license be renewed, albeit with specific conditions, but the LCB denied the application nonetheless.
In June of last year, the trial court upheld the LCB’s decision not to renew the club’s license. The club subsequently appealed to Commonwealth Court.
On appeal, the club argued that the LCB and trial court erred in finding that the club didn’t take proper steps to guard against illegal activity at or near the premises, that the two erred by considering the club’s past citations given that they were issued before the renewal period, and that they erred because there is “no causal connection between the eight incidents of disturbance and Licensee’s operation of its business.”
In its ruling, Commonwealth Court decided that the LCB’s decision to deny the license renewal application was “amply supported by the record, and, therefore, is not an abuse of discretion.”
The appellate panel wrote that the club’s history of citations alone would have been enough for the LCB to deny the renewal.
A history of selling alcohol to non-members was also sufficient to establish a “pattern of disregard for the licensing privilege,” the ruling states, quoting from the LCB’s decision relating to its license application denial.
“Although the LCB explained that it would not have denied renewal based on the citations alone, its decision to deny renewal was supported by the history of incidents on the club property,” the judicial ruling states.
Despite arguments by the club that asserted the LCB was essentially forcing the club to attempt to end crime in the “surrounding neighborhood,” the court ruled that that was not, in fact, what was being requested as part of the license renewal process.
“Rather, the LCB and the trial court expected Licensee to take substantial, affirmative steps to attempt to prevent misconduct on Licensee’s own premises,” the ruling states. “There is more than sufficient evidence in the record to support the finding that Licensee simply did not do enough.”
The court did note that the club took certain steps to prevent violent incidents from occurring in its building, such as banning problematic members, hiring its own security force and hiring extra-duty police officers on busy weekends.
But, despite being aware of violent incidents occurring in its parking lot, the club did not take “further substantial remedial measures to abate those incidents.
In its appeal, the club had also argued that the trial court’s conclusions regarding the incidents of disturbance are flawed because they are based only on oral testimony regarding the incidents, since the LCB failed to introduce police reports into evidence.
The ruling, however, states that the club cited no case law in support of its contention or to refute the basic rule that the LCB and trial court are free to “accept or reject the testimony of witnesses.”