There are some battles that are just not worth fighting, apparently. For the Rockville, Maryland Hooters restaurant that was charged with overserving the drunk driver who killed Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta late last year, that would include the battle to save their liquor license. The restaurant faced a show cause hearing before the Montgomery County Liquor Board this week over whether their license should be revoked, or some lesser penalty (a suspension and/or fines) should be levied. Apparently seeing the handwriting on the wall, the restaurant opted to forego battle and accept terms of surrender — namely, the surrender of their license. They will voluntary turn over their license and close their doors permanently in November.
Many may wonder why the restaurant wouldn’t at least try to defend themselves — after all, there is no stronger penalty the liquor board can levy than revocation, and this result is tantamount to that very outcome. Moreover, in our experience, it is notoriously difficult to make the case that an individual became intoxicated at a particular establishment, and as a result of drinks served to him at that establishment. This was, however, a very high profile case and Hooters — a nationally recognized brand — may have had strong business reasons to not engage in what seem like an exercise of shirking responsibility. The individuals who held the license for this establishment may have also had a strong interest to avoid a hearing and not tinker with the possibility of revocation — had their license been revoked they would have been permanently banned from ever holding a license again. By voluntarily surrendering their license, they avoided that fate.
Considering the business and legal implications, and the fact that the liquor board is not a court of law but an administrative body that has broad discretion to make decisions that it thinks are in the best interests of the community, this voluntary surrender and closure appears to be the proper result for all concerned. Finally, considering that the establishment cannot face any civil liability under state law (because Maryland is one of only a handful of states that does not permit so-called “dram shop liability”), this should close the matter (and a sad chapter) for the restaurant and its licensees.