On appeal from the Department of Law & Public Safety, Agency No. 06-08-5467.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Yannotti and LeWinn.
Petitioner, JB Cassano, Inc. (Cassano), appeals from the June 17, 2008 order of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) denying the issuance of a liquor license. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Cassano owned a plenary retail alcohol distribution license pursuant to which it operated a liquor store in Jersey City since 1984. In late 2005, Cassano failed to pay its sales tax obligation to the State of New Jersey. Therefore, the Division of Taxation (Taxation) seized Cassano's liquor license in July 2006 and offered the license at auction the following September.
No one purchased Cassano's license at the auction, and Cassano began negotiating the sale of its license to Susan Saeed. Cassano claimed that it entered into these negotiations based upon advice from a Jersey City official that the license could be sold despite the seizure so long as all outstanding taxes were paid in full.
Cassano paid its outstanding tax liability on January 2, 2007, and Taxation released its liquor license. The sale to Saeed fell through, and another prospective purchaser inquired about the validity of the license. Cassano contacted Jersey City officials who informed him that the license had been "forfeited" because it had not been renewed by July 1, 2006 On May 27, 2008, Cassano filed a petition with the ABC seeking reinstatement of its liquor license. In its petition, Cassano asserted that it had relied upon advice from "representatives of the City of Jersey City that [Cassano] could market and sell the [l]icense notwithstanding its seizure as long as the State was paid." Cassano further alleged that when the attempted sale to Saeed fell through, Cassano learned [u]pon contacting the City of Jersey City[,] . . . [that] the [l]icense was forfeited because it was not renewed by July 1, 2006 . . . . Prior to the fall of 2007 [Cassano] was never advised by any representatives of the State of New Jersey that the [l]icense was no longer held by it and had been forfeited due to the failure to pay a renewal fee in July 2006.
Cassano also asserted that "[b]ecause the [l]icense had been seized by the State in 2006 and because no representatives of the City advised [Cassano] to the contrary, [Cassano] believed that due to the seizure it could not renew the [l]icense." On June 17, 2008, the ABC rendered a decision denying Cassano's petition, and stated its reasons as follows:
Liquor licenses are issued for an annual term of July 1 through June 30 of the following year. . . . Thus, every liquor license expires on June 30. However, there is a 30-day grace period for a licensee to file a late renewal application. . . . Thus, the municipal issuing authority has jurisdiction to consider the renewal of a liquor license if the renewal application and fees are filed with the issuing authority by July 30 of the year beginning the term for which renewal is sought. A municipal issuing authority cannot consider an application for renewal filed after July 30 without a Special Ruling from the Director of the . . . ABC. . . . N.J.S.A. 33:1-12.18 permits the Director to issue a Special Ruling authorizing the municipal issuing authority to consider a renewal application filed within 60 days of the July 30 deadline and to issue a "new" license. The petition requesting that the Director issue a Special Ruling must be filed with the [ABC] by September 28 of the year beginning the term for which renewal is sought. . . .
The Director has no jurisdiction to grant a petition for the issuance of a "new" license when the renewal application has been filed after September 28 of the year beginning the term for which renewal is sought.
This licensee . . . took no steps to comply with the license renewal requirements in Title 33. Moreover, its explanation of why there was not strict compliance with the statute is inadequate, since a municipal issuing authority is not required to "remind" a licensee to renew its license each year. . . .
In the instant matter, the City of Jersey City said nothing about the licensee's obligation to file a renewal application for the 2006-2007 license term and was under no obligation to do so. All of the licensee's State contacts were with [Taxation] and not the [ABC]. The licensee's obligation to pay its tax liabilities to [Taxation] does not affect its obligation to file a timely renewal application with the municipal issuing authority each year. . . .
I recognize that the loss of this license may be an economic hardship to the licensee and its shareholders. However, this license was not "forfeited," but expired ...