The Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore County has issued new Rules and Regulations effective September 30, 2018.

Liquor board Rules are of great import and govern the issuance of an alcoholic beverage license as well as the day to day operations of a business selling alcoholic beverages. While hyper technical in nature, the Rules have the force of law and a violation of a Rule can result in civil penalties and ultimately suspension or revocation of an alcoholic beverage license.

Maryland Annotated Code, Alcoholic Beverages Article, Section 13-207 provides, the Baltimore County Board may adopt Rules to carry out the State law, including rules regarding:

  1. the presence on a licensed premises of an individual who is not a consumer; and
  2. the issuance of a license when the actual use of the license is to be deferred until the completion of construction or alterations on the premises.

There are substantially the same enabling laws across the state although local licensing boards ultimately promulgate very different Rules from county to county.

As a purely housekeeping matter, the new Baltimore County Rules and Regulations identify the current members of the Board, including longtime chairman Charles Klein, recently appointed member Susan Green and new member Audie Jones.

In a procedural clarification, the Rules now make clear that a licensee may be subject to a fine of up to “$2,000 or suspension or revocation of their license for any violation of any of these rules.”

The change that garnered the must comment at the public hearing on the Rules is Rule 1 that now provides, “a license holder or an employee of a license holder may not sell or provide alcoholic beverages to any person who exhibits signs of intoxication or impairment, ..” Some argued this was a high bar for a server. Our concern is that the new Rule is a different standard than the state law that provides, “A license holder or an employee of the license holder may not sell or provide alcoholic beverages to an individual who, at the time of the sale or delivery, is visibly under the influence of an alcoholic beverage.” Md. Ann. Code art. AB, § 6-307

Possibly, the change that will impact the largest number of licensees was from the old Rule 5.B, “It shall be unlawful for the holder of a Class “D” license to allow any minor or minors under the age of twenty-one (21) years to be on the premises after 9:00 p.m.” has been altered to 10:00 p.m., “unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian” who is 21 years or older. That change reflects a societal change as much as anything else.

Rule 6 that limits gifts from wholesalers to licensees has been completely rewritten and now expressly allows advertising support with a value of not more than $150. Of all the changes this one may be problematic to enforce and not only have real First Amendment challenges, but also problems in enforcing in the social media age?

There was a nod to modernity in the modest revision to Rule 9 that allow delivery of alcoholic beverages where the Rule had provided only for orders placed by mail or telephone and now orders may also be placed by “email, fax, text or via an app”.

And another minor, but possibly salacious edit to the Rules in this modern era was a change to the Rule 2 prohibited practices that had in the past only prohibited female nudity and now requires that ”the male or female pubic region, anus, cleft of the buttocks, or genitals” must be clothed and not exposed to public view.

There are a dozen or so other mostly modest changes that may impact individual licensees. The new Rules are a very good cleanup of the last version. All licensees should read the new Rules.

Given that a liquor license is “the” key asset in a business selling alcoholic beverages, be it a restaurant or package goods store, violations of laws associated with those licenses are of great import.

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

This blog post is a review of retail liquor license violations across Maryland during 2017, the most recent period for which data is available.

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 for a first offense or other fines to suspension of a license for a period of time often after a repeated violation, ultimately to revocation of a license. Anecdotally, we know a business with a first violation is more likely to have another violation within 12 months.

Significantly, an adjudication of guilt on a liquor license violation often has ramifications beyond the liquor board proceeding. The violation is often a breach of the lease for the licensed premises and likely to be a material breach of loan documents and terms of business financing.

Local licensing boards across the state reported a total of 852 retail license violations during 2017, only slightly less than the 859 violations in 2016 (certainly not a statistically significant difference).

Of note, the per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages, based upon deliveries to retailers, dipped ever so slightly from 19.921 gallons in 2016 to 19.684 gallons in 2017, but that modest decrease almost certainly does not impact the number of violations.

Overwhelmingly, the largest category of those violations, 450, that is significantly more than 50% 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. Interestingly in 2016, violations for sales to minors were only 37% of violations.

101 of those 450 reported violations were in Prince George’s County, the only locale in triple digits.

The next largest categories of violations were sales conducted by a minor and interestingly 53 of those 59 reported violations were in Allegheny County.

Next in terms of violations were 53 violations for failure to produce alcohol awareness certificates.

32 alcoholic beverage businesses had penalties assessed for being a public nuisance.

25 were penalized for sales after prohibited hours.

And 25 were also penalized for sales to intoxicated persons.

23 establishments were cited for unauthorized entertainment.

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

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

16 purchased alcoholic beverages from other than a wholesaler.

There were also license violations for: an intoxicated server; gambling on the premises; open container; 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.

Statistically, with 168 violations Montgomery reporting the largest number of those violations followed closely by Prince George’s County with 164. The only other jurisdiction in triple digits was Allegheny County with 135 violations. Baltimore City reported 91 violations. Baltimore County reported 67 violations. Only Queen Anne’s County reported no violations.

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

You may not yet know that you need an expert witness? But, in a public hearing before a Board of Liquor License Commissioners, expert witness testimony often is admitted when the Board determines that the testimony will assist it, as the trier of fact, to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.

Thomas Jefferson may be the earliest known expert witness in an American court when in 1771 in Hite v. Fairfax, the future President offered his knowledge and experience on behalf of Lord Fairfax, a proprietary land owner, in a complicated chancery suit. Dr. Henry Chang-Yu Lee may be the best known modern expert witness for his forensic science analysis and testimony challenging the police collection of blood evidence that was instrumental in O.J. Simpson being found not guilty of murder. And Michael Egen is a counterfeit wine expert consulting and testifying about wine authenticity, including for the FBI.

Our attorney, Stuart Kaplow, has testified as the expert witness on alcoholic beverage matters and could be your expert.

We can provide a written report and expert testimony before a local liquor licensing board as is considers “.. the public need and desire for the license.” Maryland the law provides the “local licensing board shall deny a license application .. if the local licensing board determines that .. the granting of the license is not necessary to accommodate the public.” And the testimony of an expert is the way to address that legal test.

In making a determination to accept expert testimony on that and other matters, the local liquor licensing board will determine whether the witness is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education; the appropriateness of the expert testimony on the particular subject; and, whether a sufficient factual basis exists to support the expert testimony. We are qualified and have the experience to satisfy those requirements.

We may need your assistance to form the basis of our expert opinions. The facts or data in a particular case upon which an expert bases an opinion are those perceived by or made known to the expert at or before the hearing. Ideally, we develop and can offer testimony of alternative and redundant theories, at times based upon facts independently developed or based on third party purchased market data, to advance each case.

All of this noted, none of this limits the right of an opposing party to cross examine an expert witness or to test the basis of the expert’s opinion or inference.

Interestingly, testimony in the form of an opinion or inference otherwise admissible is not objectionable merely because it embraces an ultimate issue to be decided by the local liquor licensing board. There is much courtroom debate over experts in litigation, from medical malpractice cases to lead paint cases, but much of that debate does not extend to the administrative proceedings that are alcoholic beverage licensing matters. There are formal rules of evidence that govern expert testimony in federal and state courts, but liquor licensing boards use ‘relaxed’ less formal rules, common in administrative proceedings, allowing wider and more expansive use of experts in liquor licensing hearings.

When you think you may need an expert, we would be pleased to work with you and your attorney to provide analysis and expert witness testimony for your liquor licensing board hearing, and more.

 

The transfer of a liquor license often involves issues of life and death, and in some instances, zombies and phantoms.

A decision last year by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City v. Austin was instructive as to when a liquor license is really dead. The court explains at the beginning of the 25 page opinion,

.. a zombie is defined as the supernatural power according to voodoo belief may enter into and reanimate a dead body.

And the opinion goes on to make the distinction that a phantom is defined as “something (as a specter) apparent to sense but with no substantial existence.” Both are used as slang terms to refer to a liquor license that has been permitted by a local liquor board to survive, for transfer purposes, beyond the statutory expiration period.

But then, .. the Maryland legislature enacted HB 1410 that changes the law of zombie liquor licenses in Baltimore County, only, effective July 1, 2018.

Under the current law a liquor license expires 180 days after the licensee has closed the business or stopped active alcoholic beverages business operations unless an application for transfer to another location or another person has been approved or is pending; an application for a certificate of permission or a renewal license for continuation of business has been approved or is pending before the Baltimore County Liquor Board; or a written request for a hardship extension is filed within the 180-day period.

Generally, the licensee or another appropriate party may make a written request to the Board to extend the life of the license due to hardship. The Board may grant the extension if the Board finds after a hearing that existing hardship caused the closing or stopping of business operations. An extension may not prolong the life of the license beyond 360 days after the date of closing or stopping of business operations.

Today if a licensed premises is forced to close because of a casualty loss, the Board may extend the license for not more than two years after the closing.

Effective July 1, 2018, as a result of HB 1410, the request for a hardship extension in Baltimore County (but not the rest of the state) automatically extends the life of the liquor license, such that the bill actually repeals the authority of the Baltimore County Board to grant a hardship extension (because it will be automatic).

The bill clarifies that the expiration period resumes on the last to occur of: final action of the Board denying an application for transfer or a request for a certificate of permission or a renewal license for continuation of business; final judgment of the reviewing court if judicial review of the Board’s action on an application or request has affirmed the Board’s action; or the dismissal of a petition for judicial review of the Board’s action.

If a licensed premises is forced to close because of a casualty loss, the Board may extend the license for not more than three years, rather than previous two years, after the closing.

This is a significant change in the life of a zombie liquor license in Baltimore County. Generally, a hardship extension may not prolong the life of an inactive license beyond the total of two years after the date of closing or stopping of alcoholic beverages business operations and any time period during which the license is suspended under an application for approval of a transfer to another location or another person, or an application for a certificate of permission or a renewal license for continuation of business has been approved or is pending.

With 781 alcoholic beverages licensees issued for use in Baltimore County the economic impact of this change in the law should not be underestimated.

And while the licenses beverage industry supported this bill, cosponsored by the entire Baltimore County delegation, its negative impact on the alienability of licenses in a highly regulated industry make the enactment of questionable positive impact on small businesses in the Baltimore County. The bill’s provisions allow a small business licensee to retain a license for a longer period of time after closing or stopping of alcoholic beverages business operations and while this may result in a licensee being able to reopen a business, it does make licenses more difficult to acquire when it slows down efforts to sell the license before the license expires.

Maryland law provides, “before deciding whether to approve an application and issue a [liquor] license, a local licensing board shall consider .. the public need and desire for the license,” among other factors.

And the laws goes on to further provide the “local licensing board shall deny a license application .. if the local licensing board determines that .. the granting of the license is not necessary to accommodate the public,” among other grounds.

But what does that nebulous legal test mean? Among the most frequent question we are asked is, “how do I prove that a liquor license is necessary at a location?”

The answer is different depending upon the location. The structure of Maryland’s liquor board system is local, independent boards, mitigating against any consistency of interpretation. Such is intentional. There is reason to conclude from the elaborate statutory scheme regulating the liquor boards that the legislature well understood that there was a substantial likelihood of differing interpretations of the term “necessary” by different local liquor boards.

In Baltimore County, the local liquor board Rule 19 furnishes a population based formula for determining the maximum number of licenses that may be issued for each election district, and that rule does not mention the term “necessary.” In determining the legal meaning and effect of Rule 19, the population based nature of Rule 19, that one off-sale liquor license is appropriate for every 2,500 people, suggests that this is the number of licenses that is most appropriate for the population. Is it possible that this number is “necessary for the accommodation of the public?”

No, because the final paragraph of Rule 19 states that the rule is in addition to those State law factors and that the Rule is not sufficient, alone, to meet the requirements for new licenses.

If Rule 19 does not control the standard for necessity, then how is that standard to be given meaning? The Maryland Court of Appeals defined the term “need” in the context of zoning law involving a challenge to the location of a doctor’s office in a residential area. The relevant law stated that a doctor’s office was a permissible use in a residential area if, inter alia, there was a “need” for such services in the area. The Court held that, in this context, “need” meant that which was “expedient, reasonably convenient and useful to the public.”

That zoning case is analogous to liquor licensing matters. State law allows for the transfer of a liquor license if, among other things, “need” is shown. The statute itself indicates that “need” should be considered in light of what is “necessary for the accommodation of the public.” When accommodation is the ultimate goal, it is reasonable that absolute physical necessity is not required. This is especially true when, as here, the accommodation at issue involves the location of a liquor store.

Black’s Law Dictionary states that the meaning of “necessary” varies with the context in which it is used:

[The word] may import absolute physical necessity or inevitability, or it may import that which is only convenient, useful, appropriate, suitable, proper, or conducive to the end sought. It is an adjective expressing degrees, and may express mere convenience or that which is indispensable or an absolute physical necessity.

The Baltimore County licensing board determined, here, a definition of need that focuses on convenience is, given the context, most appropriate.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals, in 2000, concluded that “necessary,” in this instance, means that the transfer of the liquor license to the transfer site will be “convenient, useful, appropriate, suitable, proper, or conducive” to the public in that area. And this is proven at a liquor board hearing with both expert and lay witness testimony.

We can provide you with expert witness testimony for your liquor board hearing to prove that a liquor license is necessary at a location.

 

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.

 

The Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore County has issued new Rules and Regulations.

Liquor board Rules are of great import and govern the issuance of an alcoholic beverage license as well as the day to day operations of a business selling alcoholic beverages. While hyper technical in nature, Board Rules have the force of law and a violation of a Rule can result in civil penalties and ultimately suspension or revocation of an alcoholic beverage license.

Maryland Annotated Code, Alcoholic Beverages Article, Section 13-207 provides, the Baltimore County Board may adopt Rules to carry out the State law, including rules regarding:

  1. the presence on a licensed premises of an individual who is not a consumer; and
  2. the issuance of a license when the actual use of the license is to be deferred until the completion of construction or alterations on the premises.

There are substantially the same enabling laws across the state and those code sections require public notice and a public hearing before adoption the Rules.

In March of this year, our blog post Baltimore County to Adopt New Liquor Licensee Rules described the drafting and public hearing for the now final Rules. There are significant changes from the earlier draft. Deleted from the final Rules is the proposal that licensed premises have a video camera system.

Added to that draft is the now new Rule 39 implementing the new State law that authorizes the sale of draft beer in non-refillable growlers. This is a significant new opportunity for licensees, and it particular restaurants that otherwise do not have an ability to sell beer (.. including taking advantage of the growth in craft beers) for off premises consumption.

The new Rules are a great clean up of the last version promulgated in 2014, including ‘keeping pace with the times’ by expressly authorizing notice of certain hearings to be posted on the Board’s website. But there are still vestiges of the past in this new document, including a fun regulation that a “licensee may not use or permit to be used or dispensed on the licensed premises any violent emetics or purgatives” (.. you will have to Google that).

And there are a host of substantive changes that create more and additional economic opportunity arising from the sale of alcoholic beverages in the County. There are changes to Rule 19, including the all important “exception licenses” (i.e., exceptions to the limitations on the number of licenses by population with an election district). For example, the new provisions requires,

Office buildings having a minimum of sixty thousand (60,000) square feet of leased commercial office space provided that each such building shall be limited to one (1) Class B (On Sale) beer, wine and liquor license.

.. a more generous provision than the prior Rule that required a 75,000 square feet office building. And there are other similar more economic opportunity friendly changes like reducing the minimum size of a shopping center from 500,000 square feet to 400,000 square feet for an exception Class A off premises sales license.

The new Rules will advance the alcoholic beverage industrial complex in Baltimore County. All licensees should read the June 2017 Rules.

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

The Baltimore County Board of Liquor License Commissioners is in the process of adopting new Rules and Regulations.

All liquor licensees are required to comply with not only the provisions of the Annotated Code of Maryland, the Baltimore County Code, but also the Rules and Regulations of the Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore County.

The current Rules and Regulations were last revised in 2014.

A version of those Rules and Regulations redlined to reflect the proposed changes is available here.

The Board of Liquor License Commissioners held a public hearing on February 27, and we both offered written comment and testified at the hearing.

Among the proposed changes, there is a new proposal for cameras to be installed in non public areas of licensed premises. We noted at the hearing that there will be a significant dollar expense of complying with this new mandate for cameras, and we noted that the proposed text is not precise in terms of which areas must have cameras (e.g., is it intended that there will be cameras in restrooms, in storage rooms, in walk in refrigerators, closets? We recommended that this new requirement be delayed until some date in the future, including greater specificity if a camera requirement is going to be implemented.

We also recommended clarification and standardization in the term “licensed premises,” in lieu of the several other ways that the licensed premises are described, including “premises covered by the license” and licensee’s “establishment.” This can be of importance where the Board of Liquor License Commissioners is faced with matters occurring ‘in a parking lot’ or ‘upstairs’ that may be outside of the licensed premises and beyond the control of the licensee. And what is and what can be included within the licensed premises may be a matter of inquiry as the Board approves new licenses.

We also recommended removing from the Rules and Regulations the required specific number of parking spaces from the Exception Licenses. That is, the Exception License that requires square footage of retail and office space is sufficient, especially in a day and age when land use regulations (including that there are LEED green building credits for reduced parking spaces) encourage less off street parking spaces not only in mixed use projects and in transit oriented development, but in all commercial uses. And all parking demand is being reduced by the use of Uber, Zip Car and the like. So, requiring more off street parking spaces seems counter to good environmental stewardship and has little, if anything, to do with liquor licenses.

While it might seem trivial to some, in the interest of staying current with modern trends and regulations, we recommended that the mandate in the Rules and Regulations for flush toilets be removed. That is, in the interest of potable water use reductions, waterless urinals are (not only permitted by the County plumbing code) but are becoming popular (again, they can contribute to LEED green building credits) in our County and waterless urinals should not be prohibited in licensed premises.

The effective date for the new Rules and Regulations is not yet known, but all licensees are well served by reviewing the redlined draft available from the link above.