Court OKs Approvals For Booze Sales At Pa. Gas Stations
By Matt Fair
July 31, 2015
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued a pair of precedential rulings on Friday rejecting arguments that the state’s liquor control board had improperly allowed Sheetz Inc. and Acme Markets Inc. to sell alcohol at locations that also sell gasoline.
The panel ruled that a provision of the state’s liquor code prohibiting liquor licenses from being transferred to a “place” or “property” where fuel is sold had to be read the same permissive way that prior courts had interpreted other provisions dealing with the transfer of licenses to any “location” dealing in fuel sales.
While state regulations forbid entities that sell gasoline from also selling alcohol, the opinion said that a Commonwealth Court ruling from 2014 had allowed a license to be transferred to a cafe within a grocery store that planned to operate gas pumps on grounds that the cafe was clearly demarcated as a separate business entity.
“Applicant has constructed clearly defined parameters in between the proposed licensed premises and the unlicensed premises,” the panel concluded in each of the decision. “The board concluded that the prohibitions in the liquor code against licensing locations, places, or properties that sell liquid fuels apply to the actual licensed premises. We discern no error or abuse of discretion in the board’s interpretation of the terms ‘place’ and ‘property’ . to have the same meaning as the term ‘location.'”
The first of the two cases dealt with an application to transfer a liquor license to a restaurant located within a Sheetz gas station. The opinion said that the restaurant was operated as an independent business, albeit under the Sheetz flag, and was separated from the gas station and convenience store by a wall.
The transfer was challenged in Commonwealth Court by a local beer distributor and the state’s Malt Beverage Distributors Association.
The second case dealt with a transfer application that would have given a license to an independently operated cafe in an Acme grocery store that also operated on-site fuel pumps. According to the opinion, the cafe operated under a separate name and would have a separate entrance from the grocery store despite being located in the same building.
The transfer in the case was challenged by an adjacent beer distributor.
The Commonwealth Court’s 2014 decision in Water Street Beverage Ltd. v. Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board dealt only with interpreting provisions of the liquor code prohibiting the the transfer of liquor licenses to a “location where the sale of liquid fuels or oil is conducted.” In that case, the court said that the term “location” had to be defined in relation to the particular area where the alcohol sales would take place.
Left uninterpreted in the Water Street decision, however, were separate provisions of the code prohibiting the transfer of licenses to a “place or property upon which is located as a business the sale of liquid fuels and oils.”
In both the Sheetz and Acme cases, the liquor control board concluded that the terms “place” and “property” could not reasonably have meanings that differed from the Commonwealth Court’s interpretation of the term “location.”
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court agreed. The panel said that interpreting “place” and “property” differently than it had interpreted “location” would lead to licenses being able to be issued to some entities under the “location” provisions but not to similarly situated entities under the “place” and “property” provisions.
“The legislature’s use of each of these words in the noted sections reflects an overall intent to control the licensed premises,” the opinion said. “As the board correctly asserts, absurd results would follow if ‘place,’ ‘property,’ and ‘location’ are interpreted differently. Notably, a new liquor license could be granted under [one section] but may not be transferred under [another] if a stricter analysis is applied when dealing with a “place” or “property” where liquid fuels and alcohol are sold.”
An attorney for the challengers did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The challengers are represented by Matthew Haverstick, Joshua Voss and Stephen MacNett of Conrad O’Brien, and Charles Caputo of Caputo Caputo & Regan PC.
Acme and Sheetz are represented by Stanley Wolowski, Mark Flaherty and Mark Kozar of Flaherty & O’Hara PC.
The PLCB is represented by in-house counsel Faith Diehl, Rodrigo Diaz and Robert McAteer.
The cases are Malt Beverage Distributors Association et al. v. Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, case number 1352 CD 2014, and Estate of Gloria Deckard etc. v. Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, case number 2091 CD 2014, both before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.