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PRO'S Sports Bar & Grill, Inc. v. City of Country Club Hills

April 14, 2009

PRO'S SPORTS BAR & GRILL, INC., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF COUNTRY CLUB HILLS, ET AL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This action was brought by Pro's Sports Bar & Grill, Inc. and its owners, Tharon Bradley, Carla Nelson, and Patricia Nelson (collectively "PSB") against the City of Country Club Hills, Mayor Dwight Welch, and Clerk Debra McIlvain (collectively "the City").*fn1 The suit seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive and monetary relief related to a liquor license that was issued to PSB. The issue is whether the time limitations of PSB's current license (ceasing sales at 11:30 p.m. on weekdays and 12:30 a.m. on weekends) are enforceable, or whether the general time limitations for liquor licenses appearing in the Municipal Code (2:00 a.m. on weekdays and 3:00 a.m. on weekends) should apply. PSB contends that when its liquor license was granted by ordinance of the City Council, the Council never voted on an amendment to limit the hours of sale, resulting in a license with the default sales limitations found in the Municipal Code, or alternatively, that any vote taken on the amendment was itself improper under Illinois' open meeting laws. PSB argues that the City's enforcement of the limited hours violates its procedural due process and equal protection rights. PSB has sought a preliminary injunction, and a hearing was held on December 8 and 9, 2008.

I. BACKGROUND

To obtain a liquor license in Country Club Hills, a business must apply and be approved, and then the City Council must pass an ordinance granting that particular business a liquor license. PSB satisfied all the application requirements for its liquor license, and the Council considered an ordinance to grant PSB a license on November 26, 2007. This case largely focuses on a narrow technical issue: whether the City Council voted to grant PSB a liquor license without unique limitations, or whether it voted to grant a liquor license with restricted hours of service. The Council definitely adopted an ordinance that granted PSB a liquor license, but the parties dispute whether the ordinance authorized the sale of alcohol until 2:00 a.m. on weekdays and 3:00 a.m. on weekends,*fn2 as is generally true for liquor licenses as stated at Section 13.3.06 of the Country Club Hills' Municipal Code, or whether PSB was granted a license limited to the hours of 11:00 p.m. on weekdays, and 12:30 a.m. on weekends.

The November 26, 2007 City Council meeting was videotaped, and a review of that recording establishes the following chronology of events.*fn3 Thirty-nine minutes and fifty-two seconds into the meeting, the Council turned to the "Economic Development" portion of its agenda, the only item being whether to pass an ordinance which would grant PSB a liquor license. Alderman Tyrone Hutson was granted the floor, but rather than introduce the proposed ordinance to grant a license to PSB, Hutson began explaining to the Council that he wished to "amend the ordinance, and place a time frame on the liquor license." Nov. 26, 2007 City Council Video ("Video") at 40:13. In particular, Hutson wished to limit the hours of alcohol sales to 11:00 p.m. on weekdays and 12:30 a.m. on weekends.

Mayor Welch directed Hutson to introduce the amendment via a motion, which Hutson did. Video at 40:40. After receiving a second, Hutson called for a vote, but Welch stated that discussion on the amendment must occur first. Video at 40:53. At this point, only an amendment to change the wording of the proposed liquor license ordinance was at issue-the actual ordinance itself had not yet been introduced.

After Welch called for discussion, Welch spoke for about three minutes about the liquor licensing process generally. He explained first that a liquor license does not run with the land, but rather terminates upon the sale of a business. Video at 40:55. Welch then stated that "this item has been going back and forth for a little while" because "there was no clear consensus on it." Video at 41:50.*fn4 Welch then observed that PSB is a "spot zone," meaning it is in an area zoned for commercial use but is surrounded by residential zoning. Video at 42:20. Welch then stated that he "[does] not have a problem" with the hours proposed by Hutson. Video at 42:38. Welch next emphasized that PSB's license, like all other licenses, would last only until May 1st of the following year, at which time it would need to be renewed. Video at 42:50. Welch then explained the general need for this annual renewal, and the cost of the license. He indicated that he traditionally defers on decisions related to liquor licenses to the aldermen from the particular ward where the business is to be located, and he asked "Tom" if he had "anything to say." Video at 43:57.*fn5 Tom said the proposed amended hours were fine with him, and that if there were a problem, the police would take care of it. Video at 43:58--44:08.

Another alderman-who at the preliminary injunction hearing was identified as Alderman Vincent Lockett-then inquired about moving the weekday time from 11:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. so that patrons of PSB would not have to leave before games such as Monday Night Football had ended. Video at 44:10. Welch responded that just because the bar had to stop serving liquor did not mean that the patrons had to leave-it meant only that they had to stop consuming alcohol.*fn6 Welch then said-seemingly to someone in the crowd-"you guys good with that? All right. All right. Let's move on." Video at 47:10.

No vote on the amendment was ever taken. Instead, after Welch said to "move on," Hutson did just that-he proceeded to introduce, by motion, the original ordinance. Video at 47:21. Hutson first asked Clerk McIlvain for the ordinance number, then stated:

This ordinance number, 8-1807,*fn7 is an ordinance providing for the granting of a Class A liquor license to [PSB], which is located at 18601 S. Cicero Avenue, Pursuant to Chapter 13 of the City of Country Club Hills Municipal Code.

Video at 47:21--47:41. The motion received a second, and Welch called for "discussion." Video at 47:42. At this point, an unknown alderman asked what was being considered-the original ordinance, as written, or the ordinance with the amended time changes. Video at 47:42. Welch responded,

This is amended, but we are going to have to put this, I talked to our city attorney, we'll have to put this into, ah, a formal ordinance at the next council meeting, but I'm going to give them permission to go ahead and proceed, as the Liquor Commissioner,*fn8 based on the Council's action tonight.

Video at 47:45--48:00. Welch then immediately proceeded to a roll call, and all ten aldermen voted in favor. Id. The Council then moved on to other business.

The minutes from the Council's November 26, 2007 meeting regarding this issue are, unsurprisingly, abbreviated. The minutes state the following:

Alderman Hutson moved for Council approval of Ordinance No. 0-18-07, an Ordinance Providing for the Granting of a Class "A" Liquor License to [PSB], 18601 S. Cicero Avenue, Pursuant to Chapter 13 of the City of Country Club Hills Municipal Code, Second - Alderman Watts. Discussion - Discussion ensured regarding proposed hours of sale of liquor. It was requested that the hours in the ordinance be amended to Sunday through Thursday liquor sales until 11 pm and Friday and Saturday until 12:30 am. The roll call vote with amended hours is as follows:

ROLL CALL VOTE: 10 Ayes: Aldermen Watts, Hutson, Lee,

Battie[,] Comein, Singletonm,

Lockett, Martin, Williams and Ford. 0 Nays 0 Absent[]

Motion Declared Carried and Hereby Made a Part of the Original Journal of ...


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