The opinion of the court was delivered by: Senior Judge Flaherty
Argued: February 23, 2009
BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge, HONORABLE DORIS A. SMITH-RIBNER, Judge, HONORABLE JIM FLAHERTY, Senior Judge.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (Board) appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County (trial court) that reversed its decision to deny the liquor license renewal application filed by I.B.P.O.E. of West Mount Vernon Lodge 151 (Licensee). We reverse the order of the trial court and reinstate the determination of the Board.
On January 19, 2007, Licensee filed an application to renew Club Liquor License No. C-1578 for the period beginning April 1, 2007 and ending March 31, 2009. Licensee was notified that there were objections to the renewal application and that a hearing would be held on the objections. An administrative hearing was held on October 30, 2007 before a hearing examiner.*fn1
The Board presented the testimony of Joseph Carboni, patrol officer with the Coatesville Police Department, who stated that Licensee is located in a residential area. Officer Carboni asserted that he responded to a noise complaint concerning Licensee on April 16, 2005 originating at 2:53 a.m. As Officer Carboni approached the establishment, a large group of patrons standing in front of the building began to disperse. According to Officer Carboni, he and several other officers stayed in the area for ten minutes to make sure no other crowds gathered. On July 5, 2005, Officer Carboni was dispatched to Brandywine Hospital in reference to an incident that happened inside the club. The victim informed Officer Carboni and his partner that he was assaulted. Officer Carboni stated that the victim explained he was punched several times and choked. Officer Carboni observed a laceration on the victim's face with accompanying swelling and bruising.
The Board further presented the testimony of Sergeant Martin Brice who stated that on May 22, 2005 he was dispatched to Licensee's premises in regard to a shooting. He arrived at the club at approximately 2:45 a.m. and observed hordes of people standing in front of the establishment. Sgt. Brice discovered the victim on the sidewalk and called for medical assistance.
According to Sgt. Brice, officers on duty typically set up at or near Licensee closing time. This is to facilitate orderly dispersal of the crowd. On May 7, 2006, Sgt. Brice observed a visibly intoxicated patron exit the club and fall down on the sidewalk. Officers approached the patron and planned to arrest him for public intoxication. A female patron asked if she could take the individual home. Sgt. Brice stated the woman was permitted to take the intoxicated man home and a citation for public intoxication was sent via mail.
Detective Kevin Campbell testified on behalf of the Board. He participated in the investigation of the shooting that occurred on the licensed premises on May 22, 2005. Detective Campbell interviewed patrons who were inside of the establishment prior to the incident. Witnesses reported that the victim and the perpetrator were involved in an argument along with two other patrons inside of the establishment before going outside, where the shooting occurred.
Finally, the Board presented the testimony of Christopher Strunk, patrol officer, who responded to a call from Licensee's bartender on November 4, 2006, around 2:30 a.m. According to Officer Strunk, the bartender reported that a patron seated at the bar pointed a gun at her. He understood that the bartender took the gun and placed it behind the bar, but the patron later retrieved the gun and left the premises. During Officer Strunk's investigation, he did not observe any security measures to prevent patrons from entering the premises with weapons. He agreed that it is customary for patrol units to be stationed at or near Licensee's premises at closing time.
Michael Brown, Chairman of Licensee's House Committee testified on behalf of Licensee.*fn2 He is responsible for placing beer and liquor orders, and is also responsible for security at the establishment. He explained that patrons must get buzzed in before they can enter the club. Licensee employs Mr. Brown for security on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. According to Mr. Brown, one additional person, preferably a female, works security with him on those days. Sometimes, a third person works security as well. Mr. Brown uses a metal detection wand to search patrons for weapons. After the incident where the patron brought the gun into the bar, Mr. Brown began patting individuals down as well.*fn3
Although the establishment can hold two hundred twenty-five people, Mr. Brown does not allow more than one hundred fifteen patrons inside at any given time. Mr. Brown explained that he does not feel comfortable going outside of the club to tell people to disperse after closing time. He added, "[o]nce I'm on the sidewalk, I'm fair game if somebody wants to get me or something." N.T. 10/30/07, p. 64.*fn4
Mr. Brown described the application process. He further detailed the identification that must be shown to enter the club. Members can bring in two guests each, but the guests must not be local residents. On Friday and Saturday, the club is open from 3:00 p.m. until 3:00 a.m. Mr. Brown stated that Licensee has signs on the premises indicating that fighting and drugs are prohibited. Licensee maintains a written barred patrons list posted inside the club.*fn5
The hearing examiner recommended a renewal of Licensee's liquor license. The Board disagreed and by an order dated January 19, 2008, it denied Licensee's renewal application. Licensee appealed the Board's decision to the trial court. Thereafter, the Board issued a detailed ...