August 6, 2007
IN THE MATTER OF RIKU LIQUOR STORE.
On appeal from the Department of the Treasury, Division of the State Lottery.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted July 17, 2007
Before Judges Fuentes and Graves.
Petitioner Riku Liquor Store (Riku Liquor) appeals from the final agency determination of the Executive Director of the State Division of Lottery (Division) revoking its New Jersey lottery license. We affirm.
Riku Liquor is a closely held corporation in which Sina Patel is listed as president, and owns fifty-percent of the stock; Nima Patel is listed as vice-president, and owns the remaining fifty-percent of the stock. Mahesh Patel is the corporation's secretary. All three individuals reside at the same address; and all official communications involving the lottery license are addressed to all three corporate officers.
On July 20, 2004, Riku Liquor, acting through its principals, completed and filed a lottery license renewal application. All three individuals certified, under penalty of perjury, that they had not been arrested, convicted, or the subject of any disciplinary action in connection with the operation of the liquor store business. The certification also clearly stated that if any information provided in the application was false, it "may result in forfeiture of license."
On August 10, 2005, Sina and Nima Patel sent a handwritten note to the Division advising it that on August 4, 2005, the liquor store had been closed by order of the Alcohol Beverage Commission (ABC). The note indicated that an "unknown" store employee had been issued summonses for selling alcohol to a minor; and selling alcohol after 10:00 p.m. The note further emphasized that "the owners of Riku Liquor and the members of the store corporation were NOT involved." (Emphasis added.)
On September 26, 2005, the ABC completed its investigation and permanently revoked Riku's liquor license. This prompted the Division to reopen its investigation concerning the incident that formed the basis for the ABC revocation. As a result, the Division discovered that during the months of December 2003, and January 2004, Mahesh (the corporation's secretary) had been charged with selling cocaine at the liquor store.
At the time of his arrest, Mahesh was found in possession of seven bags of cocaine. The Elizabeth Police Department also found and seized 104 bags of cocaine and twenty-two glass pipes that were kept inside the liquor store. On May 28, 2004, Mahesh pled guilty to some of these charges, and was sentenced to a six-month term of imprisonment, as well as a period of probation. Both Sina and Nima Patel were aware of these events at the time they submitted the lottery renewal application in August 2004.
Against this evidence, petitioner now appeals arguing that the Director's revocation order was procedurally defective, unsupported by the evidence, and otherwise arbitrary and capricious. We reject these arguments and affirm.
In reviewing decisions of State administrative agencies, our role is a limited one. As the Supreme Court recently reaffirmed:
[W]e do not ordinarily overturn such a decision "in the absence of a showing that it was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or that it lacked fair support in the evidence[.]" As we have consistently stated, our role, in general, is limited to determining:
"(1) whether the agency's action violates express or implied legislative policies, that is, did the agency follow the law; (2) whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the findings on which the agency based its action; and (3) whether in applying the legislative policies to the facts, the agency clearly erred in reaching a conclusion that could not reasonably have been made on a showing of the relevant factors." [Finally,] . . . in reviewing agency actions, "[a]ppellate courts must defer to an agency's expertise and superior knowledge of a particular field." [In re Carter, _____ N.J. _____ (2007) (slip op. at 18-19) (internal citations omitted).]
N.J.A.C. 17:20-5.1(a)1 specifically authorizes the Director to revoke a lottery license "[w]henever the application for a license or renewal thereof contains knowingly false or misleading information." Here, the evidence clearly supports the Director's finding. Thus, mindful of this standard of review, we discern no legal basis to disturb the Director's revocation order.
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