Standing • Jurisdiction • Liquor License

Irem Temple v. Pa. Liquor Control Bd., PICS Case No. 14-0460 (Pa. Commw. March 14, 2014) Leadbetter, J. (24 pages).

Plaintiff, who had direct interest in outcome of liquor license determination, but no standing to appeal to court of common pleas, could appeal directly to Commonwealth Court; board did not abuse its discretion in approving license transfer application. Affirmed.

Irem Temple, a fraternal organization, leased to Masonic Villages Lodge a portion of its land. Masonic was to construct a new clubhouse and demolish an existing one that Irem had operated with a catering club liquor license.

Masonic subleased back to Irem the first floor of the new clubhouse to be built, reserving the far left side and the foyer area near the stairs and elevator. Masonic built the new clubhouse and opened it in 2009.

In 2010, parties entered into a settlement agreement, designating Masonic as the exclusive service provider at the new clubhouse. The Board of Liquor Control subsequently approved a management consulting agreement between Irem and Acacia (a wholly owned subsidiary of Masonic) to serve alcoholic beverages at the new clubhouse as Irem’s agent.

In 2011, Masonic terminated the 2010 settlement agreement because Irem failed to transfer its liquor license. In 2012, Masonic subleased to Acacia the second floor of clubhouse and the portion of the first floor that had not been subleased to Irem. Irem terminated the management consulting agreement. Acacia operated a BYOB restaurant on the second floor of the new clubhouse, which was open to the public.

In 2012, township approved an application by Acacia for inter-municipal restaurant liquor license transfer from Kingston, Pa. to the new clubhouse. Irem’s catering club liquor license covered most of the proposed licensed areas.

Board approved the transfer application and notified Irem by letter that, due to approval of Acacia’s application, the entire second floor of the clubhouse and the common foyer had been “delicensed.” Irem appealed to the court of common pleas. The court quashed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

On appeal to the Commonwealth Court, Irem argued that it had standing to appeal board’s order to trial court for a de novo review as both a charitable institution within 300 feet of Acacia’s establishment and as holder of catering club licensed within 200 feet of Acacia’s establishment and that board abused its discretion in granting Acacia’s application. The Commonwealth Court affirmed board’s orders and dismissed Irem’s delicensing appeals.

Courts of common pleas have exclusive jurisdiction to hear appeals from determinations of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board appealable under the Liquor Code. See 42 Pa.C.S. §933. The Liquor Code grants standing to appeal board’s order to a court of common pleas for de novo review only to (1) “any applicant” aggrieved by board’s refusal to approve a liquor license transfer and (2) a church, hospital, charitable institution, school or public playground located with 300 feet of the proposed establishment and aggrieved by board’s approval of a liquor license transfer.

Irem was not a license transfer applicant or a charitable institution (it presented no evidence of tax-exempt status) and therefore lacked standing to appeal board’s order to the Court of Common Pleas.

However, Irem had a right to appeal directly to Commonwealth Court. See 2 Pa.C.S. §702. Irem had a direct interest in board’s adjudication and was aggrieved by approval of Acacia’s application as its liquor license included areas sought to be licensed in Acacia’s application. Trial court should have transferred, not dismissed, the matter. Irem also argued that board abused its discretion in approving Acacia’s application.

Here, evidence established that the neighborhood within 500 feet of the clubhouse was 25 percent residential and 75 percent golf course open to the public one day a week. When Acacia applied for a liquor license transfer, Irem was not operating its licensed establishment on the second floor of the clubhouse because Acacia was operating a BYOB restaurant at that location. Board was not convinced by Irem’s testimony of perceived or potential problems from granting the application. Board did not abuse its discretion in approving Acacia’s application.