Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Cuomo has issued many executive orders that touch on everything from evictions, to criminal rules such as speedy trial rights, to restrictions on bars and restaurants. One of the more recent executive orders issued on June 18, 2020 allows for liquor licenses to be immediately revoked if a bar or restaurant violated any of the reopening guidelines such as social distances of employees wearing masks. Another executive order issued the same day makes these same establishments responsible for the outdoor areas immediately outside their places of business. While criminal lawyers and liquor license attorneys understand that Cuomo is far from bluffing – the New York State Police, NYPD, and State Liquor Authority (SLA) have issued dozens of summonses to many people and businesses for violating these orders and laws – the Governor went as far as creating a multi-agency task force to address infractions and offenses.
Governor Cracks Down
According to a July 28th press release, 45 businesses’ liquor licenses were suspended, and the task force had already conducted 644 compliance checks on one night along with 503 total pandemic-related charges (an updated List of bars and restaurants facing SLA charges or summary liquor license suspensions can be found here). These summonses have been issued to establishments primarily in Manhattan and Queens, including the neighborhoods of Astoria, Jackson Heights, and the Lower East Side. Governor Cuomo previously indicated that there have been more than 25,000 complaints about businesses violating these executive orders or the terms of the reopening plan statewide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that a most of these complaints pertain to bars and restaurants in Manhattan and in the Hamptons.
Some examples of violations discovered by undercover inspectors were that employees of the bars and restaurants cited were not wearing face masks, and that the inspectors found various social distancing violations. More specific examples include the White Horse Tavern, which allegedly opened for outdoor dining and drinking during New York City’s phase one of reopening, when only take-out and delivery orders were allowed. White Horse Tavern was allegedly also serving alcoholic beverages to customers without buying food, which is another violation of the executive order on that topic from March 2020. It was further alleged that on June 20, 2020, law enforcement officers discovered 67 customers drinking on the premises. White Horse Tavern was charged with three violations on that particular date, and some 30 violations total. The revocation of the bar’s liquor license, as well as the huge number of violations, has resulted in the bar temporarily closing its doors.
Similarly, Brik Bar and M.I.A. Restaurant & Lounge also saw their liquor licenses revoked, primarily for social distancing violations and crowding. This was in response to an investigation that allegedly revealed videos of late-night parties on Steinway street with most or all of the customers not wearing masks and violating social distancing rules. This matter also resulted in Mayor Bill de Blasio promising to increase enforcement from his end in that particular area.
Governor Cuomo has stated that he and his team of health officials believe that these sorts of violations in bars and restaurants are directly related to the increase in Covid-19 cases in younger people. For this reason, there is every expectation that these sorts of summonses, citations and undercover investigations will continue to take place to a greater and greater extent.
Violations, Sanctions and Penalties
Violations of these executive orders, including those pertaining to bars and restaurants as well as social gatherings, masks and social distancing, can be charged against a business or as a criminal offense, a violation of New York City Administrative Code 3-108, a B misdemeanor, against an individual. While the executive order allows for fines up to $10,000 per violation, the aforementioned criminal code states that “any knowing violation of a provision of any emergency measure established pursuant to this chapter shall be a class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars, or by imprisonment for not more than three months, or both.”
Defending Against and Challenging Summonses
If a business’ liquor license is revoked as a result of these kinds of alleged violation of the executive order, there are various avenues to pursue. First, one could bring an Article 78 petition alleging that the New York Liquor Authority did not comply with its own rules and directives, or otherwise acted unlawfully, in revoking your liquor license. This is specifically provided for in the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Law in Section 121. If the license is revoked, and challenges are unsuccessful, typically that location cannot sell alcoholic beverages for two years, and any application for a new license will likely be revoked for two years. Alternatively, if the license is suspended, that period will typically involve a number of days (less than two years). If the license is “canceled,” the license is taken away but there are no time or other restrictions on reapplying.
It is imperative that individuals and businesses who find themselves issued with a summons, arrested or having their liquor license revoked for these kinds of violations of the executive orders contact and retain the services of experienced defense attorneys with knowledge and familiarity with these executive orders and how they relate to potential criminal or other consequences.
Whether you find yourself in NYPD custody or issued with a summons, or you a faced with your business’s loss of a liquor license or a violation or summons for similar allegations, contact the attorneys and former Manhattan prosecutors at Saland Law PC to protect you and your business, and ensure that your rights are not trampled upon during this unprecedented time.