Booze News: Distilled in Room 215

A blog about the Baltimore City Liquor Board

A new weapon against zombie licenses: the 180-day transfer rule.

Written by Becky Witt

Maryland Annotated Code Article 2B § 10-503(d)(4) states that “a transfer of any license shall be completed not more than 180 days after the Board approves the transfer.”

In most circumstances, judges interpret the word “shall” to mean that the action is mandatory; in other words, as applied to the above example, if you don’t complete the transfer of the liquor license within 180 days, you’ve lost your right to the transfer, because it cannot be completed after 180 days.

Finding 6 of the 2013 Legislative Audit, however, pointed out that “the BLLC did not always ensure that license transfers were completed within 180 days.” Communities have complained about this delay for years; the Board approves transfer applications, but the actual transfer of ownership happens months and even years after the 180-day deadline.

The Board’s position was that it had the authority and discretion to give an indefinite number of 180-day hardship extensions to applicants, until the license officially changed hands.

In response to the Board’s assertion, the legislative audit committee recommended that the Board obtain an Attorney General’s opinion to back up its assertion, since there was no support for the claim in the law.

However, two months before the Acting Executive Secretary of the BLLC, Mr. Douglas Paige, even requested an Attorney General’s opinion, the Attorney General’s office provided an on-point opinion, apparently in response to an identical request from Maryland State Delegate Brian McHale. You can read the PDF opinion, dated June 18, 2013, HERE.

You can read Mr. Paige’s request, dated August 30, 2013, more than two months after the Attorney General had already provided an on-point opinion, HERE.

The opinion confirms what Community Law Center had argued for years: that when the statute says, “a transfer of any license SHALL be completed not more than 180 days” after the Board approves it, the Board has no authority to give hardship extensions past the 180 days. The opinion points out that “while the statute does not expressly state it as a consequence, it seems clear that if the transfer ‘shall be completed’ within 180 days, it cannot be completed after that date, indicating that the consequence is the lapsing of the authority for the transfer.”

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