By Lisa Redmond | The Grafton News
WORCESTER – A superior court judge has ruled in favor of the owner of Village Dairy saying Grafton officials improperly withheld an alcohol license from the South Grafton convenience store, and that the state Alcohol Beverages Control Commission failed to respond to the town’s “willful thwarting″ of the licensing procedure.
In a legal battle that began in 2014, Amjad Chaudry, owner of Arslan Inc., d/b/a Village Dairy at 167 Main St., filed a 2017 lawsuit against the Town of Grafton and the ABCC claiming he was improperly prohibited from renewing his liquor license.
In April, each party asked Worcester Superior Court Judge William J. Ritter to rule on a request for a judgment. In his August decision, Ritter allowed Village Dairy’s motion for a favorable judgment and denied motions by the town and ABCC, sending the license back to the selectmen.
Instead, on Oct. 10 the town filed a notice of appeal to the state Appeals Court, according to the court docket.
In his decision, Ritter chastised the town for its actions in this case. Ritter accused town officials of “willful thwarting of the license renewal process.″ Ritter wrote in his decision that Village Dairy had held a one-year liquor license since 1999, but when Chaudry tried to renew his license for 2014, the Board of Selectmen voted to permanently revoke the permit due to five violations for selling liquor to underaged patrons between 2005 and 2013 as part of sting operations.
“Judge Ritter allowed the Plaintiff — Arslan Inc’s motion for judgment on the pleadings — and denied the defendants, [the] Town of Grafton and ABCC’s motions in opposition, because of their denial of Arslan’s due process rights,” Village Dairy’s attorney David Rubin told The Grafton News in an email. “The town failed and refused to send an alcohol license renewal application to Arslan but sent applications to all other holders of a license. The town erroneously said that the ABCC should have issued the license when it knew that only the town had the authority to do it. This action was a denial of Arslan’s due process and equal protection under the law.”
Rubin said Arslan has been without its beer and wine license since Jan. 1, 2016, as a result of the town’s actions adding it has created a significant financial hardship to Arslan.
Grafton’s attorney, Ginny Sinkel Kremer, disagreed with the judge’s ruling. “The Superior Court decision is based on a factual error that the judge made,” she said in an email to The Grafton News. “He stated that the Town rejected a timely filed renewal application from Village Dairy. That was a mistake. Under Mass law, license holders are required to file their renewal applications during the month of November, with no exceptions. Village Dairy did not file until late December. The Town rejected it because it was late.”
In 2015 Chaudry, through attorney Rubin, appealed the denial to the ABCC, which ruled in Chaudry’s favor and sent the matter back to the town for renewal. But when the town refused to issue the license, the ABCC bypassed the board in 2015 and issued the permit.
In July of 2015, the town sued the ABCC in Worcester Superior Court. By October of 2015, a judge ruled against the town and upheld the ABCC’s decision.
“Later that month, despite the court’s order upholding the ABCC’s decision, the town mailed renewal applications to all licenses, except to the plaintiff,″ Ritter wrote.
The renewal applications were due by Nov. 30, 2015. Chaudry sent the town a renewal application on Nov. 6, 2015, but the town refused to accept the application, not only because there was a change in manager at the business, but the town argued in court documents that the town did not issue the liquor license, so it could not renew it.
While the ABCC can issue a new license, the agency does not have the authority to renew a license, that power is given to the selectmen.
By the time all the paperwork was exchanged the Nov. 30 deadline for renewal had passed. After the deadline, Chaudry received a renewal package and submitted it to the town on Dec. 28, 2015. The town refused to renew the license because the application was filed late.
Chaudry appealed the town’s decision to the ABCC, whose Sept. 21, 2016 decision, “admonished the board and concluded they had violated the plaintiff’s due process rights by refusing to permit the filing of a renewal application,″ Ritter wrote.
The ABCC remanded the matter back to the selectmen with the recommendation that the late renewal is treated as a new application. But Ritter noted the difference between a license renewal and a new application is “significant.″ Renewals are automatic, while new licenses allow the selectmen a more “robust review″ and greater latitude and discretion in approving or denying a license.
Going back before the selectmen, Chaudry applied for and was denied a new license for the following reasons: A history of violations at the Grafton store and one in Gloucester; the lack of a manager with experience in alcohol sales; failure to have the proposed manager at the licensing hearing.
Chaudry again appealed to the ABCC, but in its April decision, the ABCC determined the town was correct in denying Chaudry a new license, primarily due to the 2015 violation for an illegal sale of alcohol to a minor at his Gloucester store.
Kremer, the Grafton attorney, said the Board offered Village Dairy the opportunity to come back with an experienced manager, but the business said no. So the Board rejected the application.
The ABCC wrote that the town’s interest in having the license in the hands of qualified management to be “highly appropriate.″