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Kougl v. Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

June 2, 2016

STEVEN KOUGL, ET AL.
v.
THE BOARD OF LIQUOR LICENSE COMMISSIONERS FOR BALTIMORE CITY

          Woodward, Graeff, Arthur, JJ.

          OPINION

          Woodward, J.

         The eagle suffers little birds to sing, And is not careful what they mean thereby, Knowing that with the shadow of his wings He can at pleasure stint their melody[.]

         -Tamora, Titus Andronicus, Act 4, Scene 4 (W. Shakespeare)

         In the instant case, we are called upon to decipher the meaning of the word "suffer, " and its analogs, "permit" and "allow." Specifically, we must decide whether these terms, when used in rules governing the conduct of holders of a liquor license in Baltimore City, require proof of knowledge on the part of such licensees.

         Appellant, Steven Kougl, owns Club Harem, a Baltimore tavern and adult entertainment business, and holds a liquor license for that location issued by appellee, the Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City ("the Liquor Board"). On July 2, 2014, the Liquor Board charged Kougl with violating three Liquor Board Rules related to solicitation of prostitution, indecent exposure, and violation of public morals, all occurring on April 25, 2013, at Club Harem, when an employee exposed herself to an undercover police officer and then solicited sexual intercourse from the same officer. The Liquor Board found Kougl guilty of all three violations and ordered that his liquor license be suspended for one month. Kougl filed for judicial review in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, which affirmed the decision of the Liquor Board.

         On appeal to this Court, Kougl raises four questions for our review, which we have condensed and rephrased as two questions:[1]

1. Did the Liquor Board make sufficient findings of fact in support of the three charged violations of the Liquor Board Rules?
2. Did the Liquor Board err in concluding that Kougl was guilty of the three violations even though there was no evidence that Kougl had knowledge of his employee's behavior?

         For reasons set forth herein, we answer both questions in the affirmative, and thus reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand the case to that court for entry of a judgment reversing the decision of the Liquor Board.

         BACKGROUND

         On April 25, 2013, Detective Fletcher Jackson, a Baltimore City police officer assigned to the Special Enforcement Section, entered Club Harem in plain clothes to conduct a prostitution investigation. Jamaica Brickhouse, a woman who worked at Club Harem, approached Det. Jackson at the bar and asked if she could join him. Det. Jackson said "sure, " and bought Brickhouse a drink. After some initial conversation, Brickhouse exposed her breasts to Det. Jackson. Brickhouse invited Det. Jackson to touch her breasts, which he did. Brickhouse then suggested a lap dance or a trip to "the VIP, " where they could "do whatever up there." Det. Jackson asked how much it would cost him to have sex with Brickhouse; Brickhouse replied that it would cost $170 "for the room, " plus a tip for her services. Det. Jackson said that he could tip $100, and Brickhouse agreed. Brickhouse returned to the stage to perform, and Det. Jackson notified other officers. Brickhouse, however, was not issued a criminal summons until December 10, 2013, almost eight months later.[2]

         Fifteen months after the incident, on July 2, 2014, the Liquor Board charged Kougl with violating three Liquor Board Rules related to solicitation of prostitution in violation of Rule 4.17(a), indecent exposure in violation of Rule 4.17(b), and violation of public morals in violation of Rule 4.18. On July 17, 2014, the Liquor Board held a hearing on the charges against Kougl. Det. Jackson was the only witness for the prosecution; Kougl testified in his own defense. The Liquor Board voted 2-1 that Kougl was guilty of the three violations[3] and suspended his liquor license for one month.

         On July 18, 2014, Kougl filed a Petition for Judicial Review in the circuit court. On March 2, 2015, Kougl filed his Memorandum, in which he argued that (1) the Liquor Board's decision was not based on substantial evidence, because "[t]here [wa]s nothing in [Det. Jackson's] testimony to indicate that the [l]icensee knew, allowed or permitted this type of activity, which is needed to sustain the violations"; (2) its decision was unreasonable and arbitrary, because the Chairman of the Liquor Board stated that a licensee "would be responsible for actions of an employee" regardless of "whether the [l]icensee knew or did not know or allowed or did not allow or permitted or did not permit" the prohibited activity; and (3) the Liquor Board failed to make specific findings of fact and conclusions of law as required. On April 15, 2015, the Liquor Board filed its Response to Kougl's ...


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