NEWARK – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) today announced that they are seeking to revoke the liquor license of Billings, Inc., the entity that holds the liquor license for the Post Time Pub in Blairstown, for serving alcoholic beverages for on-premise consumption on March 27 and April 2 in violation of Governor Murphy’s emergency orders related to COVID-19. Today’s action comes after the business was twice issued criminal charges and flouted local law enforcement efforts.
“As the Governor has repeatedly made clear – social distancing is the only tool we have to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to “flatten the curve” so our health care system is not overrun,” said Attorney General Grewal. “The Governor’s emergency orders strike a balance between allowing essential businesses to function, while ensuring the safety and well-being of New Jersey residents. Liquor license holders who flout the “take-out only” rule by allowing patrons to come inside their establishments and linger for drinks are breaking the law and putting themselves, their customers, and all New Jerseyans at risk. To any other businesses, let this be a warning that it is no longer business as usual and we will seek compliance by bringing both criminal charges and by seeking revocation of their licenses when necessary.”
In addition to the Notice of Charges Seeking Revocation filed yesterday, ABC Acting Director James Graziano today issued an Order to Show Cause requiring Billings Inc. to explain why its license should not be suspended immediately pending a full hearing on the charges.
In a filing in support of the Order to Show Cause (“the filing”), the Enforcement Bureau argued that the immediate suspension is necessary, “(g)iven the potential life and death consequences of its conduct.”
“The facts of this matter clearly demonstrate that Post Time Pub licensee refuses to comply with Executive Order 107 and will continue to cause irreparable harm to the public unless its license is suspended (during this litigation), because Post Time Pub has created a situation that fosters transmission of COVID-19, either to its patrons or persons that may come in contact with its patrons,” the filing stated.
According to the filing, on two separate occasions Post Time Pub owner Joyce Billings was observed by local police serving what appeared to be alcoholic beverages to patrons inside the pub in violation of Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 107 and Executive Order 104, a prior directive limiting business operations and travel in New Jersey during the COVID-19 declared state of emergency.
Executive Order 107, which incorporated and superseded Executive Order 104 issued by Governor Murphy on March 16, permitted bars and restaurants to remain open as essential businesses but only for take-out or delivery services of food and alcohol.
Guidelines issued by ABC clarified that under the Executive Order 107, no licensee with a retail consumption privilege is permitted to sell, serve or deliver alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption.
“This means that no table, bar, or tasting room service is permitted by any holder of a liquor license until further notice,” the ABC wrote in its guidelines. “In addition, no licensee may sell, serve or deliver alcoholic beverages in open containers.”
In the filing, ABC’s Enforcement Bureau stated that local police observed owner Billings serving what appeared to be alcohol to a patron in her bar. After issuing Billings a summons and warning her that her conduct violated Governor Murphy’s emergency directives, police again observed Billings serving patrons on April 2.
The ABC charges against Billings Inc., include violating Governor Murphy’s emergency order; aiding and abetting illegal activity on the premises by allowing patrons to eat and/or drink in the bar in violation of the emergency order; and serving alcohol outside the scope of its license because at the time of the incidents, Post Time Pub’s license was restricted to only serving package goods. Billings Inc. is also charged with advertising the sale of food and drink on March 20, in violation of Gov. Murphy’s March 16th directive ordering the closure of non-essential businesses.
ABC’s Enforcement Bureau alleges that Post Time Pub committed multiple violations of Executive Orders 103, 104 and/or 107 by allowing, permitting, or suffering its patrons to consume food and/or beverages on its licensed premises.
The presumptive penalty for violating an Order is a ten-day suspension, but because Post Time Pub is alleged to have violated an Executive Order signed by Governor Murphy during a declared State of Emergency, the violation poses an imminent threat to the public health, safety and welfare and is grounds revocation. The Enforcement Bureau seeks revocation of the Post Time Pub’s license.
Billings, Inc. has until April 14, 2020 to file a response to ABC’s Order to Show Cause.