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Florence Methodist Church v. Township Committee of Township of Florence

Decided: November 9, 1955.

THE FLORENCE METHODIST CHURCH, THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF FLORENCE, THE FIRST WESLEYAN METHODIST CHURCH OF FLORENCE, ST. STEPHENS EPISCOPAL CHURCH, RESPONDENTS,
v.
THE TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE OF THE TOWNSHIP OF FLORENCE AND GERTRUDE CHRISTY, APPELLANTS, DEPARTMENT OF LAW AND PUBLIC SAFETY OF NEW JERSEY, DIVISION OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE CONTROL, RESPONDENT



Clapp, Jayne and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Clapp, S.j.a.d.

Clapp

The appellant, Mrs. Gertrude Christy, made application to the Township Committee of the Township of Florence for a transfer to herself of a plenary retail liquor consumption license and also for a place-to-place transfer of the license. The committee granted her application by a vote (according to the record) of 6 to 5. Appeal was then taken to the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control by four churches. The Division reversed the committee, and Mrs. Christy now appeals to us.

The Division's decision, rendered by its Director, rests on a finding that in seeking the license, Mrs. Christy is acting as a "front" for her husband, James E. Christy, who under N.J.S.A. 33:1-25, 33:1-31.2 is disqualified to hold a license. He has been convicted of larceny, possession of lottery tickets, maintaining a gambling house and gaming, atrocious assault and battery, and false swearing. The first question raised by Mrs. Christy is whether this finding, that she is "a front" for him, is supported by the proofs.

She has been married to him for 20 years. In 1942, with moneys admittedly furnished by him, she bought the

premises now proposed for the tavern. Though she thereafter rented them to the Florence Athletic Club, she cannot remember who paid the rent. Moreover, she never inspected the premises in those years (except to go there occasionally for a drink) and so, professedly, never learned that (as one witness testified) the upper stories of the building were at the time used by Christy and another person as a "horse room" and for the operation of dice games. Some years later Christy (according to the same witness) attempted unsuccessfully to secure a liquor license in the name of the Florence Athletic Club, using the club apparently as a front for himself and at least one associate of his.

Mrs. Christy's story is that her father, desiring to provide her with a means of livelihood, offered her the $10,000 she needed to buy the liquor license now applied for. He, a tailor all his life, had then recently sold for $65,000 a farm standing in his name, in which he had never lived, but in which she and Christy had resided several years without paying rent. Was this $10,000 Christy's money? As the Director indicated, her testimony on various matters is to be discredited. She claimed she did not know how Christy got his money during their entire married life, though he provided her with several Cadillacs, diamond rings and the means to travel extensively. She "lived good," as she put it. For years Christy has had the repute of being a professional gambler.

It is significant that the application for the present license was made by her just before Christy got out of prison. It is significant too that both of them are now living right over the proposed tavern in an apartment from which he could readily manage the tavern; and further that she is totally inexperienced in the liquor business or any other business. The proofs are sufficient to sustain the Director's findings.

There is no question but that a license may be denied to one who acts in name only, just to serve the interest of some person disqualified under the statute. Cf. Wilks v. Liquor Control Commission , 122 Conn. 443, 190

A. 262, 263 (Sup. Ct. Err. 1937); State ex rel. Bismark Grill v. Keirnan , 238 Mo. App. 507, 181 S.W. 2 d 798, 803 (Ct. App. 1944); State ex rel. Nixon v. McCanless , 176 Tenn. 352, 141 S.W. 2 d 885 (Sup. Ct. 1940). Mrs. Christy's first contention fails.

The second question raised by her is whether the proofs before the Division warranted its interference with the action of the township committee.

The matter lay within the discretion of the committee, and hence the Division could not reverse in the absence of a manifest mistake or other abuse of discretion on the committee's part. However a discretion also is committed to the Division, and hence we will not interfere with its action unless we find that it has manifestly erred or otherwise abused its discretion. ...


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