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St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Russian Aid Society v. Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

April 13, 2012

ST. NICHOLAS GREEK CATHOLIC RUSSIAN AID SOCIETY, APPELLANT
v.
PENNSYLVANIA LIQUOR CONTROL BOARD



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Gardner Colins, Senior Judge

Argued: March 12, 2012

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge

HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge (P.) HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge

OPINION BY SENIOR JUDGE COLINS

This appeal involves an application for renewal of a club liquor license. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (LCB) denied the renewal application of the St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Russian Aid Society (Licensee). Licensee appealed to the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas (trial court), which affirmed the LCB's opinion. We affirm the trial court.*fn1

Background

Licensee is a private club located at 170-172 Allen Street, Allentown, Pennsylvania. It is commonly known as "Club Pachanga" on Saturday nights, when the club hosts large parties. Licensee filed a renewal application with the LCB for its Club Liquor License No. C-566 for the period beginning May 1, 2010, and ending April 30, 2012. The LCB's Bureau of Licensing (Bureau) objected to the renewal under Section 470 of the Liquor Code,*fn2 47 P.S. § 4-470, based upon, inter alia, four adjudicated violations of the Liquor Code and 10 incidents of disturbance at, or immediately adjacent to, the licensed premises. A hearing was conducted on July 12, 2010. The hearing examiner recommended that the license be renewed, with several specific conditions for continued operation of the club. The LCB, however, based on its own review of the record from the administrative hearing, denied Licensee's renewal application on November 3, 2010. Licensee appealed to the trial court and the LCB then issued a 45-page opinion, with 126 findings of fact, on December 14, 2010 (LCB Opinion). The trial court conducted a de novo hearing on February 16, 2011, and affirmed the LCB on June 21, 2011, adopting the LCB's findings of fact and also issuing its own Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (Trial Court Opinion). The instant appeal followed.

Licensee has approximately 2,000 club members. The licensed premises is a two-story building of approximately 13,000 square feet. The first story is the main dance floor and the second story is a private banquet hall. On Friday nights, the number of patrons generally ranges from 50 to 75, and on Saturday nights the range is from 200 to 300. Licensee operates in a "lower to lower middle class" neighborhood and there is a lot of crime in the area. (LCB Op. at 15, Findings of Fact (F.F.)

¶45; Sept. 25, 2008 Hearing Transcript (H.T.) at 22, Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 65a ("It's not the best neighborhood.").) Loitering is an issue around the premises. (LCB Op. at 16, F.F. ¶54.) The club has been vandalized with gang-related graffiti and its windows have been broken with rocks and gun shots. (LCB Op. at 16, F.F. ¶52.)

In denying Licensee's renewal application, the LCB cited Licensee's citation history, a series of violent disturbances that occurred either inside the club or in the club's parking lot, and Licensee's failure to take substantial corrective measures to attempt to prevent future disturbances. (LCB Op. at 34-35.) At the administrative hearing, the LCB presented evidence of the four adjudicated citations for violations of the Liquor Code from 1989 to 2006:

1) Citation No. 88-2462 for selling alcoholic beverages to non-members and operating a gambling device/permitting gambling on the premises in October 1988 (LCB Op. at 6, F.F. ¶6);

2) Citation No. 03-0852 for selling alcoholic beverages to non-members in May 2003 and failing to clean the "malt or brewed beverage dispensing system" at least once every seven days during the period January to April 2003 (LCB Op. at 6-7, F.F. ¶7);

3) Citation No. 05-1952 for issuing checks with insufficient funds in payment for purchases of malt or brewed beverages in June 2005 (LCB Op. at 7, F.F. ¶8); and

4) Citation No. 07-1366 for selling alcoholic beverages to non-members in November and December 2006 and January 2007. (LCB Op. at 7-8, F.F. ¶9.)

The LCB also presented evidence regarding eight incidents of disturbance,*fn3 which occurred between October 2008 and March 2010 inside the club or in the club's parking lot. Testifying at the hearing were, inter alia, Captain Stephen Mould of the Allentown Police Department (APD) and Licensee's chief security officer, Felipe Rosario. Although Mr. Rosario added certain details to Captain Mould's descriptions of the incidents, he did not dispute the basic facts of the incidents. In addition to testifying regarding the incidents, Captain Mould stated that Licensee had become a drain on police resources. (LCB Op. at 8, F.F. ¶13; July 10, 2010 H.T. at 7-8, R.R. at 494a-495a.) The incidents were:

1) October 3, 2008. APD responded to a report of a large group of people acting disorderly in Licensee's parking lot. APD arrived and the group ...


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