Restaurateurs and tavern owners have a duty to be respectful of their neighbors. The Pennsylvania Liquor Code regulates activity occurring under the licensee’s control on or about any licensed establishment, especially if that activity is at all related to the licensed facility. The Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BLCE) has the responsibility of enforcing the Liquor Code, which includes monitoring complaints of noise, disorderly behavior, and illegal goings-on such as drug activity or weapons violations on or near the licensee’s premises.
The licensee’s responsibility to control its patrons includes incidents which may begin within the licensed establishment but spill over outside. For example, it used to be that when a fight broke out inside a bar, the employees would simply toss the combatants outside in order to keep peace inside, which could result in a brawl forming on the street thus becoming a nuisance and a danger to neighbors and their property. Licensees are now trained to deal with physical conflict by separating the participants until tempers calm, or if necessary until law enforcement can be called to help quell the tensions.
Noise is another major concern of the LCB. Amplified sources of music should not be heard beyond the property boundary of the licensed premises. Live music, DJs or karaoke may not be heard outside. Gone are the days when a door could be propped open to cool down a bar where live music was playing. Reports to local police departments of loud music or noise coming from a licensed establishment are often enough to trigger an investigation by the BLCE; investigations often lead to citations.
Arrests for crimes which occur in or near a licensed establishment are reported to the LCB and the BLCE. Weapons violations, disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, and drug dealing all get reported by local law enforcement to the LCB. These are investigated independently by the BLCE and usually become a citation on the license.
Complaints by neighbors or police about licensees who sell alcohol to minors, make too much noise, permit disorderly behavior, tolerate fights or drug activity can trigger investigations. An investigation can be initiated regardless of whether the behavior was committed inside a licensed establishment or in the immediate vicinity, and whether or not arrests were made or convictions obtained. All licensees must operate their facilities in a peaceful manner so that noise is kept to a minimum and so that disturbances to the community do not affect the public welfare, peace and morals of the neighborhood.
When a licensee permits a pattern of disruptive incidents or illegal activity in or around the premises, the LCB can refuse to renew the license when its biannual licensing period expires. The term “pattern” has been defined by the LCB as being three or more separate citations within a two year renewal period for: sales to minors; frequenting by minors; sales to visibly intoxicated person(s); noise emanating from amplified speakers; noisy and/or disorderly operations; after-hours sales; and lewd and immoral conduct or entertainment. A single citation for drug transactions involving the licensee or its employee(s) on one or more occasions or drug transactions on three or more occasions, which involve patrons, where it is determined the licensee knew or should have known of the illegal activity, can result in the LCB not granting a license renewal.
Citations issued to licensees by the BLCE should be taken seriously. When a citation is issued, there is usually a waiver option to plead guilty and pay a fine or enter into a conditional licensing agreement. It is critical for a licensee to know its rights and the risks associated with waiving any rights. It is strongly advised that licensees retain legal representation before waiving or challenging a citation. Citations and conditional licensing agreements can affect the value of a license and whether that license can be transferred at all. 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. We stand ready to help.
– J. Ken Butera