Dodds v. Shamer

Decision Date01 September 1995
Docket NumberNo. 9,9
Citation663 A.2d 1318,339 Md. 540
PartiesGeorge C. DODDS v. Patricia S. SHAMER. ,
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

G. Warren Mix (Turnbull, Mix & Farmer, on brief), Towson, for appellant.

Ilene B. Glickman (Richard B. Jacobs, Lentz, Hooper, Jacobs & Blevins, P.A., on brief), Baltimore, for appellee.

Argued before MURPHY, C.J., and ELDRIDGE, RODOWSKY, CHASANOW, KARWACKI, BELL and RAKER, JJ.

RAKER, Judge.

I.

In this case, we are asked to decide whether a liquor license may be levied upon to satisfy a judgment through a writ of execution. We hold that, in the absence of a statute to the contrary, a liquor license is property subject to levy through a writ of execution.

II.

On September 11, 1990, Patricia S. Shamer initiated divorce proceedings against George C. Dodds. The Circuit Court for Baltimore County granted the parties an absolute divorce on November 23, 1992, and entered a monetary award in Ms. Shamer's favor for $49,848.22, which was reduced to judgment. After several failed attempts to collect upon the judgment, Ms. Shamer obtained a writ of execution on April 13, 1994, directing the Sheriff of Baltimore County to seize a Class A Beer, Wine, and Liquor License. 1 The license was issued in the name of George C. Dodds, Inc. t/a Harford Road Liquors. 2 On April 20, 1994, the Sheriff seized this liquor license and removed it from Harford Road Liquors. The Sheriff's office filed its return with the Court on April 22, 1994. 3

On April 21, 1994, Mr. Dodds petitioned the court to quash the execution. In this motion, he asserted that the liquor license had been improperly seized because the license belonged not to him but to the corporate entity, George C. Dodds, Inc., the license itself had no value because it was only a piece of paper that could not be considered personal property, and the seizure was tantamount to putting him out of business. The court denied the motion to quash on April 21, 1994.

On April 25, 1994, Mr. Dodds filed a second motion to quash the execution. He reasserted the same grounds for granting the motion, this time appending corporate documents showing that George C. Dodds, Inc., owned the liquor license.

In response, Ms. Shamer disputed the ownership of the license. She contended that, by statute, liquor licenses could be issued only to individuals, not to corporations, thereby making the license Mr. Dodds' personal asset. She further argued that because Maryland Code (1957, 1994 Repl.Vol.) Art. 2B, § 10-501 4 did not exempt Baltimore County liquor licenses from writs of execution, Mr. Dodds' license was properly seized.

On June 30, 1994, the court denied the second motion to quash. Mr. Dodds appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, and we granted a writ of certiorari on our own motion prior to consideration by the intermediate appellate court.

III.

The question of whether a liquor license is subject to levy under a writ of execution is one of first impression. 5 In Maryland, a writ of execution may be exercised upon any legal or equitable interest possessed by the judgment debtor in either real or personal property:

A sheriff or constable to whom any writ of execution is directed may seize and sell the legal or equitable interest of the defendant named in the writ in real or personal property. The sheriff or constable shall execute the writ, conduct the sale, and distribute the proceeds pursuant to rules adopted by the Court of Appeals.

Maryland Code (1974, 1995 Repl.Vol.) § 11-501 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article (CJ); see also Maryland Rules 2-641 to 2-644. It follows that unless the object to be levied upon can be defined as "property" under this statute, it will not be subject to a writ of execution.

In order to find that a liquor license properly falls under the rubric "property," we must reconcile CJ § 11-501 with § 10-501(a). Section 10-501(a) provides that the grant of a liquor license by a State authorized licensing authority does not confer to the licensee any property rights in the license.

(a) License not property--Licenses issued under provisions of this article shall not be regarded as property or as conferring any property rights. All such licenses shall be subject to suspension, restriction or revocation, and to all rules and regulations that may be adopted as herein provided.

Art. 2B, § 10-501(a).

A.

Article 2B provides no definition for the term "property." Mr. Dodds urges that under § 10-501(a), a liquor license is not property and, therefore, is not properly subject to seizure under a writ of execution. We disagree.

The first sentence of § 10-501(a) provides that licenses issued under Article 2B do not confer any property rights upon the licensee. The second sentence provides the context from which the first sentence derives meaning. Here, the statute provides that all liquor licenses "are subject to" suspension, restriction, revocation or regulation by the State and the State authorized licensing authorities. We conclude that the legislature intended in this provision only to establish that the State's plenary power to control the sale of liquor predominates over any "right" in the liquor license that a licensee might seek to assert against the State or the State authorized liquor licensing authority. Cf. Dundalk Liquor Co. v. Tawes, 201 Md. 58, 66, 92 A.2d 560, 563 (1952) (recognizing that the State has plenary power over the sale of alcoholic beverages).

As Mr. Dodds correctly points out, we have stated on several occasions that selling liquor pursuant to a license in Maryland is a privilege, not a constitutional right, and that this privilege is terminable at will. Dundalk Liquor, 201 Md. at 65, 92 A.2d at 563 ("The privilege of engaging in the traffic is not a right, but merely a franchise which the state may grant or withhold at will."); Herman v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 189 Md. 191, 199, 55 A.2d 491, 496 (1947); Federico v. Bratten, 181 Md. 507, 510, 30 A.2d 776, 778 (1943) ("The Act of 1933 expressly provides that a liquor license is not a property right, but a privilege, so that he would not be deprived of a constitutional right by the refusal of the Board or the Bureau [to renew his license]."); Abramson v. State, 167 Md. 531, 533-34, 175 A. 593, 594 (1934) ("A liquor license by the terms of this act, is a privilege to be granted, withheld, or withdrawn, on such terms and conditions as the Legislature may prescribe."); see also Brashears v. Lindenbaum, 189 Md. 619, 629, 56 A.2d 844, 848 (1948); Cromwell v. Jackson, 188 Md. 8, 24-25, 52 A.2d 79, 87 (1947); State v. Maryland Club, 105 Md. 585, 595, 66 A. 667, 670 (1907). That possession of a liquor license is a privilege conferring no property rights against the State's power to regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages, however, does not necessarily mean that a liquor license is not property when it becomes the object of adverse claims brought by private individuals against the licensee.

All of our cases interpreting § 10-501(a) and its precursors have involved controversies between licensees and the State. In Dundalk Liquor, a liquor licensee sued the Comptroller and Chief of the Alcoholic Beverages Division seeking to enjoin the enforcement of new regulations fixing maximum discounts and requiring the filing of a schedule of prices for the sale of liquor in Baltimore City. 201 Md. at 61, 92 A.2d at 561. Finding that the State had plenary power over the sale of alcoholic beverages under the Twenty-First Amendment and the Commerce Clause, we held that the trial court had properly dismissed the licensee's lawsuit. 201 Md. at 65-66, 73, 92 A.2d at 563, 567. In Herman, over a licensee's protest that his property rights had been violated, we upheld the City of Baltimore's imposition of an emergency liquor excise tax authorized by the General Assembly. 189 Md. at 193-94, 200, 55 A.2d at 494-95, 496. In Federico, we held that the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners had exceeded its authority by prohibiting the sale of alcohol within 300 feet of a church. 181 Md. at 512, 30 A.2d at 778. Although we found for the licensee, we did not declare that the licensee had any due process property right in the license. Rather, we held that the State, not the City, had the power to prohibit sales of alcoholic beverages in certain areas. Id. at 511, 30 A.2d at 778. Finally, in Abramson, we affirmed the criminal conviction of a licensee who had stored untaxed liquor on his premises after we found that the State's ultimate power to suspend or withdraw a liquor license obliged the licensee to follow the State's regulations. 167 Md. at 533-34, 175 A. at 594.

These cases stand for the proposition that a liquor licensee possesses no constitutionally protected property right that would restrain the State or the State authorized licensing authority from exercising its plenary power over the licensee. In this case, the conflict is between two private individuals; the liquor licensing authority is not involved. Therefore, these cases do not control our decision.

Nothing within the language of or under the case law interpreting § 10-501(a) precludes us from finding that a liquor license is "property" that could be subject to execution. 6 This conclusion, however, raises the question whether there is an inherent contradiction in finding that a liquor license is "property" under CJ § 11-501 but not "property" under § 10-501. We find there is not. 7

B.

We have recognized that property is a term that has broad and comprehensive significance; it embraces "everything which has exchangeable value or goes to make up a man's wealth--every interest or estate which the law regards of sufficient value for judicial recognition." Diffendall v. Diffendall, 239 Md. 32, 36, 209 A.2d 914, 915 (1964); accord Deering v. Deering, 292 Md. 115, 125, 437 A.2d 883, 889 (1981); see also Samet v. Farmers' & Merchants' Nat'l Bank of Baltimore, 247 F. 669 (...

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