CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Citation729 A.2d 407,354 Md. 116
Docket NumberNo. 140,140
Decision Date14 May 1999

Roger Lee Fink, County Atty. for Charles County, LaPlata, for petitioner.

Patricia N. Drummond, Upper Marlboro, for respondent. Argued before BELL, C.J., and ELDRIDGE, RODOWSKY, CHASANOW, RAKER, WILNER and CATHELL, JJ.



Respondent Eva Toye owns and operates a restaurant and tavern in Charles County, Maryland, trading as "Toye's Inn." For twenty-seven years, Ms. Toye held an "on and off sale" alcoholic beverage license for Toye's Inn. Petitioner, the Board of License Commissioners for Charles County (Board), filed a show cause order and a formal protest against the renewal of respondent's license on March 6, 1997. Due to typographical errors in those documents, petitioner filed an amended protest and amended show cause order on March 13, 1997. Copies of all four documents were served upon respondent, which notified respondent of a scheduled hearing. Petitioner, however, did not publish a general public notice of the renewal hearing.

The amended show cause order alleged that "numerous fights, stabbings, and shootings" and "numerous sales of controlled dangerous substances" had occurred at Toye's Inn during the preceding ten months, threatening the "peace and safety of the community." At a hearing on April 10, 1997, an assistant county attorney presented to petitioner the testimony of four peace officers with the Charles County Sheriff's Office who described incidents of illegal drug activity on the Toye's Inn property. Respondent called no witnesses on her behalf. After a unanimous vote of the Board during a April 24, 1997, hearing, petitioner denied renewal of respondent's license in a written opinion filed May 8, 1997.

Respondent sought judicial review in the Circuit Court for Charles County, which affirmed petitioner's findings of fact and conclusions. An appeal to the Court of Special Appeals followed. That court reversed the circuit court in an unreported opinion, holding that petitioner was required to provide public notification of the renewal hearing. Petitioner sought a writ of certiorari, which we granted, presenting the following issue:

When a protest to the annual renewal of an alcoholic beverage license is initiated by a County Board of License Commissioners and served on the Licensee pursuant to Md.Code Ann., Article 2B, § 10-301(a), whether the Board is also required to publish a general public notice of the hearing in strict compliance with the provisions of Md.Code Ann., Article 2B, §§10-202(a)(1)(i-iv) and 10-202(a-1).[1]

Under the circumstances of this case, we hold that, pursuant to the statute applicable here, publication of a general public notice is required prior to a hearing on a protest to the renewal of an alcoholic beverage license. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.


As relevant to the case sub judice, Maryland Code (1957, 1996 Repl.Vol.), Article 2B, section 10-301(a)(1),2 described the renewal process in effect at the time of petitioner's protest:

[T]he holder of any expiring license... shall, not less than 30 nor more than 60 days before the first day of May of each and every year, file a written application... for the renewal of the license.... A license by way of renewal may not be approved without a hearing... if a protest has been filed against the granting of the new license at least 30 days before the expiration of the license for which renewal is sought. This protest shall be (i) signed by not less than ten residents or real estate owners in the immediate vicinity in which the licensed place of business is located; or (ii) instituted by the board of licensing commissioners on its own initiative. If the protest has been filed it shall be heard and determined as in the case of original applications.... [Emphasis added.]

The procedure for original applications for alcoholic beverage licenses was described, as pertinent to the case before us, in section 10-202:

(a) General procedure.(1)(i) Before the Board of License Commissioners for Baltimore City or any county approves any application for a license, the Board shall cause a notice of the application to be published two times in two successive weeks:


2. For county licensee applicants—in two newspapers of general circulation in the county where two newspapers are published, and if not, then in one newspaper having a general circulation in the county.


(iv) At the time fixed by the notice for a hearing on the application ... any person shall be heard on either side of the question.

(2)(i) The application shall be disapproved and the license for which application is made shall be refused if the Board of License Commissioners for the... county determines that:
1. The granting of the license is not necessary for the accommodation of the public;
2. The applicant is not a fit person to receive the license for which application is made;
3. The applicant has made a material false statement in his application;
4. The applicant has practiced fraud in connection with the application;
5. The operation of the business, if the license is granted, will unduly disturb the peace of the residents of the neighborhood in which the place of business is to be located; or
6. There are other reasons, in the discretion of the Board, why the license should not be issued.


(a-1) Publication in Charles County.—Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a) of this section, in Charles County, before the Board of License Commissioners approves any license, the Board shall cause notice of the application to be published 2 times in 2 successive weeks, in 1 newspaper of general circulation in Charles County. [Emphasis added.]

In appeals from the decisions of alcoholic beverage licensing boards, our scope of review is determined by section 16-101(e)(1)(i):

Upon the hearing of such appeal, the action of the local licensing board shall be presumed by the court to be proper and to best serve the public interest. The burden of proof shall be upon the [licensee] to show that the decision complained of was against the public interest... or that such decision was beyond the powers of the local licensing board, and was illegal.

This Court and the Court of Special Appeals have noted that quasi-judicial decisions of administrative agencies, including local alcoholic beverage licensing boards, are typically subject to reversal if reached in an illegal manner. See Maryland Aggregates Ass'n v. State, 337 Md. 658, 678, 655 A.2d 886, 896 ("Maryland's courts have inherent power to correct agency adjudicatory determinations that are ... illegal."), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1111, 115 S.Ct. 1965, 131 L.Ed.2d 856 (1995); Department of Natural Resources v. Linchester Sand & Gravel Corp., 274 Md. 211, 224, 334 A.2d 514, 523 (1975) ("[W]hen an agency is acting in a fact-finding capacity (quasi-judicial) the courts review the appealed conclusions by determining whether the contested decision was rendered in an illegal ... manner."); Board of Liquor License Comm'rs v. J.R. Bros., 119 Md. App. 308, 312, 705 A.2d 16, 18 (1998) ("If the Board[ ]... committed no error of law, we must ... affirm the Board's decision. If the Board[ ] ... did commit an error of law, we must [reverse its decision]."). In this case, if section 10-301(a)(1) required petitioner to give public notice as described in section 10-202(a-1), then petitioner's findings of fact and conclusions, though prima facie correct, were reached through an illegal procedure and the case should be remanded for a new hearing. See Art. 2B, § 16-101(e)(4)(ii) (authorizing remand of the proceedings in Charles County). We turn first to the meaning of the relevant portion of section 10-301(a)(1).

"The cardinal rule of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the legislature." Oaks v. Connors, 339 Md. 24, 35, 660 A.2d 423, 429 (1995). Legislative intent first must be sought in the actual language of the statute. Marriott Employees Fed. Credit Union v. Motor Vehicle Admin., 346 Md. 437, 444-45, 697 A.2d 455, 458 (1997); Stanford v. Maryland Police Training & Correctional Comm'n, 346 Md. 374, 380, 697 A.2d 424, 427 (1997) (quoting Tidewater v. Mayor of Havre de Grace, 337 Md. 338, 344, 653 A.2d 468, 472 (1995)); Coburn v. Coburn, 342 Md. 244, 256, 674 A.2d 951, 957 (1996); Romm v. Flax, 340 Md. 690, 693, 668 A.2d 1, 2 (1995); Oaks, 339 Md. at 35, 660 A.2d at 429; Mauzy v. Hornbeck, 285 Md. 84, 92, 400 A.2d 1091, 1096 (1979); Board of Supervisors v. Weiss, 217 Md. 133, 136, 141 A.2d 734, 736 (1958). Furthermore, where the statutory language is plain and free from ambiguity, and expresses a definite and simple meaning, courts normally do not look beyond the words of the statute itself to determine legislative intent. Marriott Employees, 346 Md. at 445, 697 A.2d at 458; Kaczorowski v. Mayor of Baltimore, 309 Md. 505, 515, 525 A.2d 628, 633 (1987); Hunt v. Montgomery County, 248 Md. 403, 414, 237 A.2d 35, 41 (1968).

We begin the interpretation of a statute by ascertaining the plain ordinary meaning of the relevant language. This Court explained in Romm, 340 Md. at 693, 668 A.2d at 2, however, that statutory language cannot be defined by dictionary definitions alone:

"In construing the meaning of a word in a statute, the cardinal rule is to ascertain and carry out the real legislative intention." Tucker v. Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., 308 Md. 69, 73, 517 A.2d 730 (1986). We start by examining the language of the statute. Id. We are not constrained, however, by ... "the literal or usual meaning" of the terms at issue. Id. at 75, 517 A.2d 730. "A dictionary is a starting point in the work of statutory construction, but not necessarily the end." Morris v. Prince George's County, 319 Md. 597, 606, 573 A.2d 1346 (1990).

We noted in Tuck...

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