Pennsylvania Record

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Happy-hour violations can lead to severe penalties

By Dawn Brotherton | May 25, 2016

HARRISBURG — Happy hour laws govern how alcoholic drinks can be discounted or promoted at restaurants, breweries, wineries or hotels, and violating those laws can be costly and even result in a suspension of a business' liquor license.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) is responsible for regulating the sale and distribution of liquor throughout the state. The PLCB issues licenses and sets rules, while the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement enforces the rules. The PLCB is separate from the BLCE. 

In Pennsylvania, licensees are permitted a maximum of 14 hours per week of happy hour specials. This time can be allotted as the licensee wishes, but the time limits cannot exceed four consecutive or non-consecutive hours on any given day. Happy hour cannot be extended past midnight, nor can daily drink specials.

“When there is a violation of the Liquor Code, the BLCE investigates," Kimberly Selemba, an attorney with McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, told the Pennsylvania Record.

"The BLCE must notify the licensee of the violation within 30 days of the completion of the investigation.” 

In addition, “a citation must be sent by registered mail to the licensed premises. The hearing (must be held) not less than 10 nor more than 60 days from date citation was sent," according to Selemba. 

The hearing is held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) within one year of the date of violation.

The ALJ has the discretion to either fine the licensee, suspend the license or even revoke the license. A monetary fine can be from $50 up to $1,000. 

“It depends on the severity of the violation.” Selemba said. “Serving a minor can result in much higher penalties.”

The ALJ can look at the past history of the licensee in determining the penalty that is pronounced. Once the ALJ has determined the penalty, the licensee has 20 days to pay the fine or the license is suspended or revoked by the ALJ.

The licensee can appeal the ALJ’s ruling to the PLCB, but the board “shall only reverse if the ALJ committed an error of law, abused its discretion or if its decision is not based on substantial evidence," according to Selemba.

The licensee can also appeal to a court of common pleas.

If a patron gets into an accident after being served liquor by a licensee, it’s possible the licensee could be in violation of the Liquor Code. The BLCE would have to open an investigation to determine if a violation was made. Selemba was unaware of any cases involving a DUI and happy hour, as this is not her practice area.

The PLCB states on its website, “Section 497 of the Liquor Code provides that no licensee shall be liable to third person on account of damages inflicted upon them off of the licensed premises by customers of the licensee unless the customer who inflicts the damage was sold, furnished, or given liquor or malt or brewed beverages by the licensee or its agents, servants, or employees, when the customer was visibly intoxicated. [47 P.S. § 4-497].”

Civil liability in a case involving a DUI is different than liability to the Liquor Code. A licensee would be well-advised to seek out a lawyer who specializes in liquor liability issues if they are sued in civil court.

The initial application fee for a new liquor license starts at $25,000 plus filing costs. Sunday sales permits have an additional fee. Losing a license because of happy hour violations would be quite costly.

Pennsylvania is one of eight states that allow happy hour specials but place restrictions on the time. Another nine states prohibit happy hour drinks and promotions. 

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Organizations in this Story

McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Pennsylvania State Police

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