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Applying Pridgeon v. Board of License Commissioners to the Stadium Lounge case

The question arose at the Baltimore Liquor Board at a Nov. 17 license renewal protest hearing on the Stadium Lounge at 3151-3153 Greenmount Avenue. A community association, the Waverly Improvement Association, announced it had negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the licensee.

Should the commissioners allow others to then testify at the hearing?

Citing a 2007 Court of Appeals decision involving the Prince George’s County Liquor Board, Witt argued in an email to The Brew they were required to do so.

“Even though Waverly had entered into an agreement,” she said, “the Board should have openly sought further comment by community members, not discouraged it.”

“The facts in the Stadium Lounge case are very similar, except that in the Pridgeon case, the Liquor Board of Prince George’s County held the hearing and decided not to renew the license, even though the licensee had come to an agreement with the community association,” she wrote, in a memo to The Brew.

Witt included these excerpts from the Court of Appeals decision in Pridgeon:

“In determining the effect of the withdrawal of a protest, it is important to keep in mind that the question of renewal is not a matter between the licensee and the protestant. It is a matter between the licensee and the Board, which, in order to issue or renew a license, must, inter alia, determine that the licensee and the licensed premises meet certain requirements. See §10-202(a)(2). Once a protest hearing is instituted, the Board must evaluate the licensee and licensed premises in light of these requirements, and if the requirements are not met, no action by the protestant can serve to waive them.

“A protest filed under § 10-302(g)(1) serves as a signal to the Board that the licensed establishment may not be meeting the standards set under [***8] § 10-202(a)(2). At that point, the Board is required to look into any possible problems that would require the denial of a renewal. This is done through a hearing, “as in the case of an original application.” § 10-302(g)(5). The filing of a protest does not confer any special standing upon the protestant; its effect is solely on the Board, which is then required to make an inquiry by way of hearing.”

“In sum, once the protest was filed, the Board was compelled to make further inquiry into the renewal of Senate Inn’s license and the withdrawal of the specific protest was a circumstance that did not compel a cessation of Board examination of the application for renewal. Like any protestant under § 10-302(g)(4), the Protest Group was never a party to the case, so the withdrawal of its protest was without effect on the jurisdiction of the Board to conduct the protest hearing. In other words, while timely filing of the protest vested the Board with jurisdiction to hold a protest hearing, the withdrawal of that protest did not divest the Board of its jurisdiction. Despite withdrawal of the protest, the Board was still responsible for making the same § 10-202(a)(2) determinations that it [***9] was required to make at the time the protest was filed. Withdrawal of the protest did not render any of these issues moot.”

“At a protest hearing, ‘any person shall be heard on either side of the question.’ § 10- 202(a)(1)(iv) (emphasis added). In order words, at a protest hearing the Board may consider evidence submitted by anyone in attendance — not just the licensee and the protestants. Though not every person or group has the standing to file a protest, once a protest is filed, any person may be heard at the protest hearing. The Protest Group’s act of withdrawing its protest meant only that the Protest Group itself voluntarily declined to present a case against Senate Inn. Withdrawal of the protest was without effect on the Board’s jurisdiction to conduct the hearing, and it was without effect on the right of the others[] attending the hearing to be heard on the matter.”