A Case of a Liquor License Lost
By AJ Wagner
A few weeks back the Dayton City Paper had a debate about liquor licenses and the City of Dayton’s request to the Ohio Liquor Control Commission not to renew the licenses of five different bars. This week, Ohio’s Tenth District Court of Appeals in Columbus weighed in on the subject with the kind of authority that could doom the five bars in question.
Jeffrey Allen Douglas operated a bar and grill known as Jeff’s Place in Columbus. The real estate at that location is owned by Edward M. Douglas (“Mr. Douglas”), the father of appellant.
The Columbus City Council passed a resolution objecting to the 2010-2011 renewal of the liquor permit at Jeff’s Place. The objection was based upon legal grounds set forth in R.C. 4303.292.
A hearing was held at which the following witnesses testified: Detective Allen Brown and Officer Robert C. Vass, both employees of the Columbus Police; and Edward Douglas.
Detective Brown said there were 130 dispatched runs to Jeff’s Place, which he classified as “an extremely high number” as well as a “burden on the police resources.” The reasons for the runs spanned various categories, including traffic accidents, traffic violations, domestic violence disturbances, suspicious persons, stolen vehicles, shots fired, calls to report persons with guns, shootings, narcotics activity and robberies. In addition, Detective Brown testified he participated in a nuisance abatement group with the Columbus Department of Health, which inspected premises for violations and documented health and safety violations.
Officer Vass testified that Jeff’s Place has always had its problems, but in the past two-to-two and one-half years, the establishment has become a cause for concern for the officers working in that precinct, as well as the citizens in the area. Officer Vass further acknowledged that of all the bars in precinct five, Jeff’s Place was the most problematic. Officer Vass also testified to the presence of gang members at Jeff’s Place.
Mr. Douglas testified that crime in precinct five and in the neighborhood around Jeff’s Place has increased in the last two or three years. Mr. Douglas testified all of the patrons at the club have guns in their pockets and he did not know what to do about it besides call the police. He testified that he would remove patrons from the bar he suspected were gang members, but sometimes those patrons would jump the fence and re-enter the bar. Mr. Douglas acknowledged he did not try to increase the presence of security by either adding special duty police officers or additional security in the parking lot or inside the establishment.
After a hearing, the license renewal was denied for the following reasons: (1) the place for which the permit is sought is so located with respect to the neighborhood that substantial interference with public decency, sobriety, peace or good order would result from the issuance and operation of the permit; (2) the applicant has shown a disregard for the laws, regulations or local ordinances of the state and will operate the permit business in a manner which demonstrates a disregard for said laws, regulations or ordinances; (3) the permit location does not conform to applicable building, safety or health requirements; and (4) for good cause.
At the Court of Appeals, Edwards made several arguments to support his position for renewal of the license. First, he disputed the conclusion that the renewal of the permit license would substantially interfere with the public decency, sobriety, peace or good order of the neighborhood, arguing the neighborhood is not residential, the operation of the establishment has very little impact on an already crime-ridden area and there is no nexus between the environmental conditions and appellant’s operation of the business.
The Court said, “A permit holder is entitled to a renewal, pursuant to R.C. 4303.271, unless good cause exists to reject the renewal application. Pursuant to R.C. 4303.292(A)(2)(c), the division of liquor control may refuse to issue, transfer, or renew a retail permit if it finds ‘[t]hat the place for which the permit is sought * * * [i]s so located with respect to the neighborhood that substantial interference with public decency, sobriety, peace or good order would result from the issuance, renewal, transfer of location or transfer of ownership of the permit and operation under it by the applicant.’ . . . A renewal application is properly rejected under R.C. 4303.292(A)(2)(c), even if the permit holder’s operation does not per see cause the illicit activity, because there can be good cause to reject the permit application where it constitutes a breeding ground for a deleterious environment. ”
The Court also found that, although in an industrial area, the bar was within 500 feet of a house and other nearby residences. Further, the Court noted the violations of health codes.
(Taken from Douglas v. Ohio Liquor Control Comm., 2012-Ohio-2218.)
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A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.