This blog post is a review of retail liquor license violations across Maryland during 2016.

The twenty three counties in Maryland, Baltimore City, and the City of Annapolis issue retail alcoholic beverages licenses and local boards of liquor license commissioners police activities under those licenses.

Local licensing boards regulate the types of licenses issued, scope and restrictions of licenses, including hours of sale, and much more. Those boards enforce the more than 3,100 page state law, county and city laws, and the boards’ own rules and regulations. Enforcement varies from locale to locale and is often fact specific, but penalties can range from civil enforcement dollar penalties or fines to suspension of a license for a period of time, ultimately to revocation of a license.

Local licensing boards across the state reported a total of 859 retail license violations during 2016.

Overwhelmingly, the largest category of those violations, 321, that is over 37% of all violations, are for sale of an alcoholic beverage to a minor. Sales to a minor represent the largest number of violations not only statewide but also in nearly all counties; and generally result in larger dollar fines than other violations.

In a statistical anomaly the only other violation that reports in triple digits is sale of alcohol without an license, however, 101 of the 103 reported violations are in Prince George’s County such that this is a locale specific issue not necessarily of gravis concern to most licensees.

The next largest categories of violations are ministerial in nature. 63 licenses paid penalties for late renewal filings and 49 paid penalties for not being able to produce and alcohol awareness certificate.

35 alcoholic beverage businesses had penalties assessed for being a public nuisance. 22 of those were in Baltimore City and most were part of the larger effort to reduce the number of package goods stores.

33 were penalized for illegal conduct on the licensed premises, ranging from solicitation of sex acts to sale of drugs; and, another 15 allowed prohibited practices in the premises the largest number of which involved partially clothed dancers.

29 establishments were cited for unauthorized entertainment.

18 businesses paid penalties for failure to maintain records, reports of purchases, and invoices.

16 were penalized for sales to intoxicated persons.

15 were fined or had licenses suspended for failure to cooperate with police.

12 were serving during prohibited hours.

11 purchased alcoholic beverages from other than a wholesaler.

There were also license violations for: an intoxicated server; gambling on the premises; open container; minors conducting the sale; failure to display a license; inappropriate relationship with a wholesaler; tampering with contents of nonalcoholic beverages on the premises; business being operated by other than the owner; operating under a trade name not approved, etc.

Curiously, there were no reports in 2016 of violations for: serving outdoors without permission; refilling bottles; failure to register a keg; underage employees; and, noise disturbing the neighborhood, despite violations for each during 2015.

Statistically, with 139 each Montgomery and Prince George’s reporting the largest number of those violations. The only other jurisdictions in triple digits was Baltimore City with 122 violations. Baltimore County reported 54 violations. Frederick County had 42 and Allegheny had 41 respectively. Carroll County reported 39 violations. Howard County had 35 violations and other locales had fewer. No jurisdiction reported no violations.

Given that a liquor license is “the” key asset in an alcoholic beverage business, a licensee should consider the value of that license when cited for a violation and is well served to be represented by legal counsel at a license board proceeding.

 

It is difficult to comprehend what new liquor licensing laws could possibly be required in Maryland in 2017 after the legislature passed the largest bill in Maryland history last year, some 3,180 pages long, codifying alcoholic beverage laws.

But as the just concluded 437th session of the Maryland General Assembly, began in the City of Annapolis on the eleventh day of January 2017, and ending on the tenth day of April 2017, more than 2,881 bills were introduced of which more than 361 bills were enacted, including more than a few that will provide business opportunities for those engaging in the sale of alcoholic beverages. This post is a compilation of those bills.

For the past several years, craft brewers in the State have backed legislation to increase the amount of beer they may sell for on-premises consumption in their taprooms. They have been opposed by beer wholesalers and retailers, who have feared that their businesses would suffer as a result. Of the several bills on these issues, the sides reached agreement on House Bill 1283 (passed) that applies to all Class 5 breweries, which include both small craft breweries and a large Guinness brewery scheduled to open in Baltimore County. Note, the bill does not apply to pub-breweries, micro-breweries, or farm breweries.

The bill increases, from 500 barrels to 2,000 barrels, the amount of beer a Class 5 brewery may sell for on-premises consumption each year. The brewer may apply for permission to sell an additional 1,000 barrels per year, provided any beer sold in excess of the 2,000 barrels is first purchased by the brewer from a licensed wholesaler. The bill also authorizes a Class 5 brewery to contract to brew and bottle beer with and on behalf of another Class 5 brewery or holder of a Class 2 rectifying license, Class 7 micro-brewery license, Class 8 farm brewery license, or nonresident dealer’s permit. Contract beer that is sold for on-premises consumption at a Class 5 brewery may not exceed the greater of 25% of the total number of barrels of beer sold annually for on-premises consumption or 1.2% of total finished production under the Class 5 brewery license. Also, the bill alters the hours during which the sales and serving privileges of an on-site consumption permit may be exercised for specified Class 5 breweries. For license holders who obtain an on-site consumption permit after April 1, 2017, the hours of sale for on-site consumption extend from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., Monday through Sunday. Class 5 breweries, who obtained licenses before April 1, 2017, are exempt from the bill’s stated hours of sale and will continue to operate under the longer hours established in each local jurisdiction. Continue Reading New Alcoholic Beverage Laws from the 2017 Session of the Maryland Legislature

In a recent case, Maryland’s highest court held that liquor board rules and regulations may impose strict liability on liquor licensees for prohibited conduct that occurs on their premises whether the licensee is aware of the conduct or not.

In the instance before the court, the Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City had charged Steven Kougl and his company, Kougl, Inc., with violating provisions of the Board’s Rules and Regulations that regulate sexual conduct and prohibit illegal activity on a licensee’s premises. The Liquor Board found that Kougl violated: Rule 4.17(a), which prohibits the solicitation of prostitution on a licensee’s premises; Rule 4.17(b), which prohibits indecent exposure on a licensee’s premises; and Rule 4.18, which prohibits the violation of federal, state, and local laws on a licensee’s premises, and ordered a 30 day suspension of the liquor license.

Kougl argued that because he had no knowledge that the employee had solicited prostitution and exposed her breasts, he had not violated Rules. He argued that the Rules require actual or constructive knowledge on the part of the licensee, and, therefore, he did not violate them, including that he was not even on the property at the time.

By way of background, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court, the Court of Special Appeals, found because there was no evidence of Kougl’s actual or constructive knowledge of the employee’s conduct that the Liquor Board erred in finding him guilty of violating the Rules at issue.

However, in a February 17, 2017 decision, in The Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City v. Steven Kougl, et al., the Maryland Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court overturned the lower court decision and held that the Liquor Board Rules at issue impose strict liability on licensees for prohibited conduct that occurs on their premises. You can watch the argument before the high court here.

Strict liability is generally defined as “the imposition of liability on a party without a finding of fault.” So, Steven Kougl did not need to be at fault to have liability. The licensee had absolute legal responsibility without having knowledge. The Liquor Board need only prove that the prohibited activity occurred on the licensed premises.

While this case arose in Baltimore City under their Board’s Rules and Regulations, that have since been amended, this is an important case that changes Maryland law and has statewide implications.

All liquor licensees in Maryland should be aware that the standard for violation of Liquor Board rules may be strict liability. While the precise language of the local rules and regulations will control, be aware that The Liquor Board need only prove that a prohibited activity occurred on the licensed premises to find a violation.