The city’s bar and liquor store owners adversely impacted by the midnight closure imposed by the hotspot business curfew ordinance suffered yet another setback this month in their battle to exempt alcoholic establishments from being regulated by the ordinance.
Judges Allison Accurso and Karen Suter of the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division dismissed the appeal filed by the group of dozen liquor establishment owners to lift the midnight closure for liquor businesses, according to an opinion issued on May 12th, 2016.
This is the third setback for the business owners.
The first came on December 5th, 2014. The group sought the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to intervene to exempt liquor license holders from being regulated by the municipal ordinance.
Business owners maintained the city lacked the authority to regulate liquor establishments. The division director denied the group’s request to allow liquor establishments to remain open beyond the midnight until the case is decided.
The director looked at the two sections of the business curfew ordinance: the first regulated all businesses in a designated geographic area and the second amended the city’s code to regulate hours of operation for liquor establishments. He determined regardless of his decision on the second section the first will remain in effect rendering his ruling “moot.”
Businesses failed to present evidence that proved the ordinance was “contrary to law or invalid,” noted the director when he denied the group’s request to exempt liquor businesses from midnight closure until after the issue is decided.
The director referred the case to the office of administrative law for a hearing. However, the group filed in court to overturn director’s denial. The court issued a denial on December 11th, 2014 delivering a second setback which prompted an appeal.
Business owners argued the director made a final determination based on his observational remarks which denied them the right to be exempt from the midnight closures until after the case has been decided.
Accurso and Suter wrote the director “did not render a final decision,” but referred the case to the office of administrative law. This month’s decision is a third setback for the bar and liquor store owners who sought to remain open beyond midnight while fighting the business curfew in the courts.
The judges sent the case back to the office of administrative law where both the city and the business owners will have to make their arguments. In the meantime, the liquor establishments, like other businesses in the hotspot business curfew zones, will have to close at midnight.
The business curfew ordinance which was adopted by the city council in August 2014 has reduced non-fatal shootings in the 15 designated areas by 79-percent, according to data compiled by the police department.
Council members have touted the ordinance as a success. In fact, last month, the city council added two sections of 12th Avenue, one of the most crime-plagued streets in the city, into the ordinance.
The ordinance has been costing liquor establishment owners thousands of dollars every day, according to bar and liquor store owners.
“The good thing is it’s moving,” said Quilvio Montesino, who spearheaded the opposition against the business curfew ordinance, on Sunday afternoon.
This August will mark two years since the business curfew ordinance was passed by the city council. He said with the case sent back to the office of administrative law a decision on the matter is imminent.
“They have to make a decision now,” said Montesino, who noted he could not much discuss the case without his attorney.