Court of Appeals 3.31.09

The Court released a published opinion on the Gabby’s Saloon liquor-license appeal, In the Matter of the On-Sale Liquor License, Class B, Held by T.J. Management of Minneapolis d/b/a Gabby’s Saloon and Eatery.  The Court reversed the City’s adminstrative attempts to impose conditions on a granted liquor license that previously had no conditions.  The decision is made on due process grounds – the entire file supporting “adverse action” against this applicant involved the off-premises behavior of patrons, which the Court is unwilling to ascribe to the license holder as it did for on-premises illegality in the Hard Times Cafe case (which applied the same “good cause” language from Minneapolis code).  

Despite making a decision striking down the conditions on due-process vagueness grounds, the Court engages in a lengthy discussion analyzing express and implied regulatory powers in the context of the conditions imposed upon the license.  In the process, the Court distinguishes the  City of Duluth v. Cerveny,  a 1944 case that practitioners have relied upon to justify a very wide berth for cities engaging in liquor regulation.  Here, the Court is unwilling to give either statutes or City ordinances a broad reading (and shows its irritation by including in the opinion plenty of record quotes from city attorneys about “stretching the law”).  A key fact that may have fed the Court’s irritation: the city’s public safety committee had proposed harsh conditions, and staff had gathered their information – and Gabby’s received a liquor-license renewal from the City without conditions.  Cities and other governments get a lot of deference and leeway from the courts in part because of the difficulty of the job, but the easiest way to lose that tolerance is when one hand does not talk to the other.


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