What is a Nuisance Bar?

In 1990, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (“LCB”) established the “Nuisance Bar Program” as a method of dealing with licensed establishments which were chronic offenders of the Liquor Code. In 1998, the program was expanded to allow the LCB to consider activity occurring on or about the licensed premises or in areas under the licensee’s control if that activity is at all related to the licensed establishment in addition to violations of the Liquor Code.  The goal of the Nuisance Bar Program is to shut down licensed establishments that are determined to be a “nuisance” and to help licensees in danger or owning a “nuisance bar” change their practices to avoid being so labeled.

Regulation of bars generally and nuisance bars in particular is the joint task of the LCB and the Pennsylvania State Police.

The LCB itself is not charged with enforcing the Liquor Code, it cannot fine a licensee nor can it suspend or revoke a license. Those enforcement powers are conferred upon the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, commonly known as the Enforcement Bureau.  The Enforcement Bureau issues citations for a variety of reasons including:  sales of alcohol to minors; sales to visibly intoxicated patrons; excessive noise; after-hour sales; drug activity; weapons violations; and lewd and immoral conduct.  Once a citation is issued, the licensee is usually given the opportunity to execute a waiver of its rights and pay a fine, which is considered an adjudicated citation.   If the licensee chooses not to execute a waiver, it has the right to challenge the citation and ask that the Enforcement Bureau prove its case before the Office of Administrate Law Judges (“ALJ”). The ALJ is an autonomous arm of the LCB and is responsible for conducting hearings regarding citations under the Liquor Code.  Hearings before the ALJ are single judge proceedings tried without a jury that allow either party to present evidence and witnesses and permit the other party to cross examine or challenge evidence.  The Enforcement Bureau is represented by its chief counsel’s office and licensees are encouraged to have legal representation at the ALJ hearing.   

While the LCB itself does not have enforcement authority, it does control license renewal and transfer applications.  Liquor licenses must be renewed by the LCB every two years through an application process.  Applications for transfer to new owners or locations are controlled by the LCB as well. When license renewals and transfer applications are reviewed the LCB examines the operational history of that licensed establishment.  The LCB may object to the approval of a license renewal that has three or more adjudicated citations within the four-year licensing period.  Similarly the LCB may object to an application for transfer if the license has multiple adjudicated citations, civilian complaints or numerous police reports related to that establishment. 

Should the LCB consider a licensed establishment a “nuisance” and refuse to renew its license or deny transfer, the licensee is entitled to appeal that decision to the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the licensed premises exists.  Those appeals are heard before a Common Pleas Judge and the matter is between the licensee and the LCB directly.  Renewal objections are also treated as bench trials.  The LCB is represented by its chief counsel’s office and may present evidence and witnesses, including the agents from the Enforcement Bureau to buttress its case.  Licensees are encouraged to be represented by an attorney in order to protect its interests in the license. The presiding judge has the power to revoke the license.  

Citations issued to licensees by the Enforcement Bureau should be taken very seriously.  It is critical for a licensee to know its rights and the risk associated with waiving any rights.  It is strongly advised that licensees retain legal representation before waiving or challenging a citation or the LCB’s objection to renewal or transfer.  The attorneys at Butera Beausang Cohen & Brennan have been representing licensees for more than five decades and are well versed in the nuances of the Liquor Code and liquor license work generally.  They stand ready to help.
– J. Ken Butera


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