Respondent Eva Toye owns and operates a restaurant and tavern in Charles County, Maryland, trading as "Toye's Inn." For twenty-seven years, Ms. Toye held an "on and off sale" alcoholic beverage license for Toye's Inn. Petitioner, the Board of License Commissioners for Charles County (Board), filed a show cause order and a formal protest against the renewal of respondent's license on March 6, 1997. Due to typographical errors in those documents, petitioner filed an amended protest and amended show cause order on March 13, 1997. Copies of all four documents were served upon respondent, which notified respondent of a scheduled hearing. Petitioner, however, did not publish a general public notice of the renewal hearing.
The amended show cause order alleged that "numerous fights, stabbings, and shootings" and "numerous sales of controlled dangerous substances" had occurred at Toye's Inn during the preceding ten months, threatening the "peace and safety of the community." At a hearing on April 10, 1997, an assistant county attorney presented to petitioner the testimony of four peace officers with the Charles County Sheriff's Office who described incidents of illegal drug activity on the Toye's Inn property. Respondent called no witnesses on her behalf. After a unanimous vote of the Board during a April 24, 1997, hearing, petitioner denied renewal of respondent's license in a written opinion filed May 8, 1997.
Respondent sought judicial review in the Circuit Court for Charles County, which affirmed petitioner's findings of fact and conclusions. An appeal to the Court of Special Appeals followed. That court reversed the circuit court in an unreported opinion, holding that petitioner was required to provide public notification of the renewal hearing. Petitioner sought a writ of certiorari, which we granted, presenting the following issue:
Under the circumstances of this case, we hold that, pursuant to the statute applicable here, publication of a general public notice is required prior to a hearing on a protest to the renewal of an alcoholic beverage license. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.
As relevant to the case sub judice, Maryland Code (1957, 1996 Repl.Vol.), Article 2B, section 10-301(a)(1),
[T]he holder of any expiring license... shall, not less than 30 nor more than 60 days before the first day of May of each and every year, file a written application... for the renewal of the license....
The procedure for original applications for alcoholic beverage licenses was described, as pertinent to the case before us, in section 10-202:
(iv) At the time fixed by the notice for a hearing on the application ... any person shall be heard on either side of the question.
In appeals from the decisions of alcoholic beverage licensing boards, our scope of review is determined by section 16-101(e)(1)(i):
This Court and the Court of Special Appeals have noted that quasi-judicial decisions of administrative agencies, including local alcoholic beverage licensing boards, are typically subject to reversal if reached in an illegal manner. See Maryland Aggregates Ass'n v. State, 337 Md. 658, 678,
"The cardinal rule of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the legislature." Oaks v. Connors, 339 Md. 24, 35, 660 A.2d 423, 429 (1995). Legislative intent first must be sought in the actual language of the statute. Marriott Employees Fed. Credit Union v. Motor Vehicle Admin., 346 Md. 437, 444-45, 697 A.2d 455, 458 (1997); Stanford v. Maryland Police Training & Correctional Comm'n, 346 Md. 374, 380, 697 A.2d 424, 427 (1997) (quoting Tidewater v. Mayor of Havre de Grace, 337 Md. 338, 344, 653 A.2d 468, 472 (1995)); Coburn v. Coburn, 342 Md. 244, 256, 674 A.2d 951, 957 (1996); Romm v. Flax, 340 Md. 690, 693, 668 A.2d 1, 2 (1995); Oaks, 339 Md. at 35, 660 A.2d at 429; Mauzy v. Hornbeck, 285 Md. 84, 92, 400 A.2d 1091, 1096 (1979); Board of Supervisors v. Weiss, 217 Md. 133, 136, 141 A.2d 734, 736 (1958). Furthermore, where the statutory language is plain and free from ambiguity, and expresses a definite and simple meaning, courts normally do not look beyond the words of the statute itself to determine legislative intent. Marriott Employees, 346 Md. at 445, 697 A.2d at 458; Kaczorowski v. Mayor of Baltimore, 309 Md. 505, 515, 525 A.2d 628, 633 (1987); Hunt v. Montgomery County, 248 Md. 403, 414, 237 A.2d 35, 41 (1968).
We begin the interpretation of a statute by ascertaining the plain ordinary meaning of the relevant language. This Court explained in Romm, 340 Md. at 693, 668 A.2d at 2, however, that statutory language cannot be defined by dictionary definitions alone:
We noted in Tucker, 308 Md. at 73, 75, 517 A.2d at 731, 732, that
... We ... recognize the rule that where a statute is plainly susceptible of
See also Farris v. State, 351 Md. 24, 28-29, 716 A.2d 237, 240 (1998) ("If the language of a statute is ambiguous, we consider the usual meaning of the words in the context of the setting and the objectives and purposes expressed by the Legislature."). In Tracey v. Tracey, 328 Md. 380, 614 A.2d 590 (1992), it was argued that we should strictly interpret the language of an alimony statute according to its literal meaning. We disagreed, noting that:
Id. at 387, 614 A.2d at 594 (citations omitted).
We have also noted that when "there is a lack of relevant legislative history,[
The circuit court found that the words "heard and determined" in section 10-301 (a)(1) referred only to the procedures governing the original application hearing itself, namely, the procedures that addressed the criteria listed in section 10-202(a)(2) that an alcoholic beverage licensing board must find do not exist prior to approving an original license application. The circuit court stated:
As relevant to this appeal, "hear," the present tense of "heard," means "5. to give a formal, official, or judicial hearing to (something); consider officially, as a judge, sovereign, teacher, assembly, etc.: to hear a case. 6. to take or listen to the evidence or testimony of (someone): to hear the defendant." THE RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE 654 (unabr. ed.1983). "Hearing" is defined as "3. opportunity to be heard: to grant a hearing. 4. an instance or a session in which testimony and arguments are presented, esp. before an official, as a judge in a lawsuit."
Maryland Code (1957, 1998 Repl.Vol. ), Article 2B, section 1-101 states, in general terms, the policy behind Article 2B and the powers granted to local licensing boards:
We have noted that the power of the Legislature to regulate alcoholic beverages through Article 2B derives from the State's police powers to protect the public welfare. Erwin & Shafer, Inc. v. Pabst Brewing Co., 304 Md. 302, 309 n. 8, 498 A.2d 1188, 1191 n. 8 (1985) ("It is uncontroverted that a state's right to control and regulate liquor is founded in its police power, granted to it under the twenty first amendment to the U.S. Constitution." (citing Dundalk Liquor Co. v. Tawes, 201 Md. 58, 66, 92 A.2d 560, 563 (1952))); Payson St. Neighborhood Club v. Board of Liquor License Comm'rs, 204 Md. 278, 284-85, 103 A.2d 847, 850 (1954) ("The foundation of the power of the Legislature to regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages and the grant of licenses ... is, of course, the police power.").
This Court, in dicta, also has explained the general policy within Article 2B to closely regulate the activities of local alcoholic beverage licensing boards:
Board of Liquor License Comm'rs v. Hollywood Prods., 344 Md. 2,13, 684 A.2d 837, 842-43 (1996) (emphasis added); see also Baines v. Board of Liquor License Comm'rs, 100 Md.App. 136, 141, 640 A.2d 232, 235 (1994) (noting that alcoholic beverage licensing boards must "scrupulously"
The language of section 10-301 clearly works in conjunction with section 10-202. Section 10-301(a)(1) provides that if a protest to a license renewal has been filed, the protest "shall be heard and determined as in the case of original applications," original applications being governed by section 10-202. Section 10-202(a-1) indicates that hearings in Charles County on protested license renewals must be preceded by public notice. Section 10-202(a)(1)(iv) requires that "any person shall be heard on either side of the question" of renewal. Two criteria that an alcoholic beverage licensing board must examine at a protested license renewal hearing include whether the facility covered by the license being considered for renewal is "not necessary for the accommodation of the public" or would "unduly disturb the peace of the residents of the neighborhood in which the place of business is ... located." § 10-202(a)(2)(i). In Charles County, section 10-202(g) also allows petitioner to consider "the general reputation of the ... licensee and of the place of business and of the people who congregate therein." Section 10-202, therefore, contemplates that when protests are filed, a hearing will be held in which citizens from the neighboring areas may testify either for or against a license renewal, not a proceeding in which only the protestant, in this case the Board, and the licensee may call witnesses on their own behalf. The intent of section 10-301 to incorporate by reference the original application process described in section 10-202 into a renewal protest proceeding reflects that both procedures address the relationship between the local community and the facility operating with an alcoholic beverage license.
Petitioner, and other alcoholic beverage licensing boards, generally must provide the opportunity for public testimony in order to fully address these issues. Petitioner apparently recognized this need for public testimony at protested renewal hearings when it adopted its own Rule 2.106 (1992), which states: "[t]he general public and representatives of the news media are encouraged and invited to attend all hearings ...." (Emphasis added.) When notice of a hearing is published properly, petitioner will be able to hear the comments and testimony of interested persons from the general public and incorporate them into its decision-making process. If notice is published, but no members of the general public appear and present evidence, petitioner at least can infer that there are no supporters or opponents of the renewal. In other words, the public is unconcerned. If there is no public notice, licensing boards likely will have no evidence generated by the general public and would not be able to imply any interest, or lack of interest, by the public.
Alcoholic beverage licensing boards are charged with considering public accommodation and public disturbance issues. We believe, therefore, that the requirement that renewal applications, when protests exist, "be heard and determined as in the case of original applications," requires publication of notice. Publication is the method devised by the Legislature to ensure consideration of the public's interest.
This Court noted, in dicta, the necessity of examining the public interest during hearings on protests to alcoholic beverage licenses in Williams v. Associated Professors of Loyola College, 257 Md. 316, 337-38, 263 A.2d 5, 15-16 (1970). In construing the "heard and determined as in the case of original applications" language in the renewal statute, we quoted a nisi prius opinion from the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Cargill v. Board of Liquor License Commissioners, (May 25, 1944) (Dennis, C.J.):
"Per Section 27 of the Act[, now Article 2B, section 10-301], upon the filing of a protest ... the Board must hold a hearing precisely as in the case of original applications. In acting upon an original application the Board shall determine the facts. If granting the license
Id. (emphasis added). Although Williams and Cargill discussed issues unrelated to the case sub judice, the quotation from Cargill indicates the importance of public input when licensing boards decide whether to renew a protested license. Public input is desirable to address, with some precision, the statutory factors protecting "the public interests."
The public, however, cannot testify regarding the public interest during protested renewal hearings without knowledge that renewal proceedings are to be conducted before the licensing board. Presumably, the only way a citizen would be aware of a renewal hearing without public notice would be by "word of mouth," typically through the protestant or the licensee. Such a method of "notice" not only would reduce the number of citizens attending the hearing to testify, but allow the parties to the proceeding to advertise the hearing only to witnesses biased toward their cause. Thus, as it must in original applications hearings, petitioner must publish general public notice of the pending protested renewal proceedings.
Finally, we address petitioner's argument that protests to renewals are more in the nature of license revocation or suspension hearings, which require only actual notice to the licensee. See Md.Code (1957, 1998 Repl.Vol., 1998 Cum.Supp.), Art. 2B, §§ 10-401, 10-403. Licensing boards may revoke or suspend licenses if "necessary to promote the peace or safety of the community," and apparently may do so without any official notice to the public. § 10-401(a)(2). Section 10-401(a), however, requires revocation or suspension for certain actions by the licensee or his or her employees:
(vi) Violation of the provisions of § 12-104 of this article [which prohibits alcoholic beverage manufacturers and wholesalers from having any business interest in an establishment that sells alcohol retail];
Thus, section 10-401 requires an alcoholic beverage licensing board to suspend or revoke a license for any of a number of specified reasons. Section 10-202(a)(2), however, requires that licensing boards reviewing protests to license renewals determine all of the listed criteria, including the criteria involving the public interest and those focusing on the licensee's behavior, before they may renew a protested license. Testimonial evidence by neighboring citizens, therefore, might be necessary to ascertain whether the section 10-202(a)(2) criteria that protect the community interests in renewing or denying the license exist. Notice by publication, in turn, is necessary to make the public aware of its right to be heard on those criteria at the renewal hearing.
We therefore hold that alcoholic beverage licensing boards, hearing a protest to a license renewal under section 10-301(a)(1), must provide general notice by publication as described in section 10-202 prior to holding a protested renewal hearing.