Levelle, Inc. v. Alcoholic Bev. Control Bd., 05-AA-765.

Docket NºNo. 05-AA-765.
Citation924 A.2d 1030
Case DateMay 17, 2007
CourtCourt of Appeals of Columbia District
924 A.2d 1030
LEVELLE, INC., Petitioner,
No. 05-AA-765.
District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
Argued January 30, 2007.
Decided May 17, 2007.

[924 A.2d 1032]

David W. Wilmot, with whom Andrea M. Bagwell, Washington, DC, was on the brief, for petitioner.

James C. McKay, Jr., Senior Assistant Attorney General, with whom Robert J. Spagnoletti, Attorney General for the District of Columbia at the time the brief was filed, and Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, were on the brief, for respondent.

Before KRAMER and FISHER, Associate Judges, and BELSON, Senior Judge.

BELSON, Senior Judge:

This appeal challenges the revocation of a liquor license held by petitioner, Levelle, Inc., for an establishment located within a District of Columbia government-owned building in Northwest, Washington, D.C. Petitioner contends that the findings underlying the decision of the District of Columbia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to revoke the license were not supported by substantial evidence and that the District should have been precluded from relying on evidence of events that took place prior to entry of an agreement between Levelle and the District of Columbia settling a landlord-tenant suit concerning the premises. We disagree and therefore affirm.


Petitioner Levelle, Inc. is a District of Columbia corporation that operated the Coach IV Restaurant, a.k.a. "Club U," within the Frank Reeves Municipal Center at 2000 14th Street, N.W. (hereinafter "the establishment" or "the club"). Prior to February 15, 2005, when its license was summarily suspended, petitioner held a Class "C/R" Retailer's License for the establishment that authorized petitioner to serve spirits, wine, and beer. See D.C.Code § 25-113(b)(3)(A)(i) (2001). After investigating the relationship between the operation of petitioner's establishment and numerous incidents of crime in and around the establishment, the District of Columbia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board ("the Board") revoked petitioner's license on June 29, 2005.

Statutory Background

Pursuant to D.C.Code § 25-801 (2001), the Board has the authority to enforce the provisions of the "Alcoholic Beverage Regulation" title with respect to licensees. "The Board may suspend or revoke the license of any licensee during the license period if: (1) The licensee violates any of the provisions of this title, the regulations promulgated under this title, or any other laws of the District; [or] (2) The licensee allows the licensed establishment to be used for any unlawful or disorderly purpose . . . ." D.C.Code § 25-823 (2001). Under D.C.Code § 25-827(a) (2001), "[t]he Chief of Police may request the suspension or revocation of a license if the Chief of Police determines that there is a correlation between increased incidents of crime within 1,000 feet of the establishment and the operation of the establishment. The determination shall be based on objective criteria, including incident reports, arrests, and reported crime, occurring within the preceding 18 months and within 1,000 feet of the establishment."

Before the Board may revoke or suspend a license, a licensee has a right to be heard pursuant to D.C.Code § 25-821 (2001), unless, as in this case, the summary revocation or suspension provisions of D.C.Code § 25-826 (2001) are invoked for situations in which "the operations of a licensee present an imminent danger to the health and safety of the public" or in which a patron assaults a police officer or other government official within 1,000 feet of the establishment.

924 A.2d 1033
Factual Background

In 1999, the District of Columbia Office of Property Management sued petitioner, and petitioner countersued, both alleging breach of the lease contract for the space occupied by petitioner's establishment.1 On December 16, 2004, petitioner and representatives of the District of Columbia executed a Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release ("Settlement Agreement" or "Agreement") to dispose of their respective claims. Under this Agreement, which expressed a "desire to fully and finally settle the Tenant's claims and the District's claims," petitioner was permitted to operate the establishment on weekdays from 7:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. and three evenings per week after 5:00 p.m. until a termination date of January 2, 2007.2 Petitioner agreed to pay a one-time $100,000 "Settlement Payment"; pay a monthly rent of $2,916; and provide security for its evening events including "a minimum of two (2) security officers, use of the magnetometer as appropriate, and 100% ID check as appropriate." The District of Columbia, in exchange, agreed that "[t]he Office of Property Management will withdraw its protest with the Alcohol Control Board." The parties also executed a release from future actions relating to or arising from the claims in the lawsuit.3

While the landlord/tenant dispute was being litigated, and continuing after the execution of the Settlement Agreement, the establishment and the surrounding neighborhood experienced numerous incidents of violent crime. In particular, the club became a "focal point" for late-night problems on the weekends, according to the Chief of Police; it appears that the combination of large numbers of young people,4 excited by alcohol, and the club's "go-go" atmosphere, created a volatile mix that the club's security was inadequate to control.

For example, on June 19, 2003, several female patrons were involved in a verbal altercation inside the club and were escorted outside, where one patron struck another patron in the head with a broken bottle, causing severe lacerations. Metropolitan Police Officers were flagged down to assist with the fight and crowd control, and two

924 A.2d 1034

arrests were made for assault. This incident was later investigated by the Board as Specification H to Charges I and II in the Notice to Show Cause issued to the establishment.5 In other incidents, a male patron who left the club shot a person within 1,000 feet of the club on November 21, 2003, and a female patron assaulted a police officer after being ejected from the club on October 17, 2004; these incidents were later investigated by the Board as Specifications G and E, respectively, to Charge II in the Notice to Show Cause.

On November 10, 2004, the Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD"), Charles Ramsey, sent the Board a letter pursuant to D.C.Code § 25-827(a) (2001) recommending the revocation of the club's alcohol license.6 The letter stated that "[t]he area surrounding `Club U' has been the focal point of several crimes" and detailed six events that "were directly related to, or occurred in front of `Club U' during their hours of operation." The Chief stated that "[t]he number and severity of the criminal offenses occurring at and around `Club U' leads me to conclude that the interests of the community would be best served if the license . . . were revoked." The Board took no immediate action to suspend or revoke petitioner's license.

On February 13, 2005, a series of incidents occurred at or around the establishment that were later investigated by the Board under several different specifications used to support Charges I and II of the Notice to Show Cause. In the incident at issue in Specification A of both charges, a male patron choked his girlfriend and punched a second female patron who tried to intervene, knocking her unconscious. The male patron was escorted out of the establishment, but the police were not notified. Ambulance personnel treated one victim at the scene and transported another victim to a hospital. According to Specification B of both charges, the male patron involved in Specification A returned to the scene and fired gunshots at the ambulance crew that was treating one of the assault victims referred to in Specification A. According to Specification C of both charges, on the same day a physical altercation broke out in the Reeves Center lobby between two male patrons as the establishment was closing, and the scene became chaotic as a large number of patrons tried to exit the establishment. Finally, according to Specification D of both charges, a patron who was being ejected from the club by security personnel was fatally stabbed inside either the club or the Reeves Center lobby, and the security officer assisting the bleeding patron had to step away to assist with the incident described in Specification C.

On February 14, 2005, following the incidents of the night before, the Chief of

924 A.2d 1035

Police sent another letter to the Board pursuant to D.C.Code § 25-827 recommending the revocation of the club's license. In this letter, the Chief stated: "I am strongly recommending that Club U ABC's [sic] license be permanently revoked based on yesterday's homicide and the two other homicides that can be linked to Club U. . . . This club should be permanently shut down for the safety and security of the people who go to Club U and live nearby."

On February 15, 2005, the Board invoked its summary procedures pursuant to D.C.Code § 25-826 to suspend petitioner's license. The Board held hearings on the suspension and on March 14, 2005, issued a notice to show cause why petitioner's license should not be revoked. The notice to show cause included multiple charges directed at the petitioner, each supported by several specifications that detailed individual incidents. Charge I alleged that petitioner had allowed the licensed establishment to be used for an unlawful or disorderly purpose, in violation of D.C.Code § 25-823(2). Charge II alleged that the licensed establishment was the subject of a request for revocation of its license by the Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, pursuant to D.C.Code § 25-827, based on a determination that there was a correlation between increased incidents of crime within 1,000 feet of the establishment and the operation of the establishment....

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