Pa. Liquor Board Fights Tab For Not Enabling Direct Shipping

December 1, 2023

Types : In the News

Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices pressed the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to explain Thursday why it thought itself immune from financial consequences of ignoring orders to permit direct shipping of alcohol, given that state law allows local branches of government or individual government employees to pay damages for not doing their jobs.

The state’s highest court is handling an appeal stemming from the PLCB’s failure to implement a 2016 law in time for alcohol manufacturers, distributors and sellers to skip the state-owned wine and liquor stores during COVID-19 closures. The board has argued that Section 8303 of the Pennsylvania Judicial Code, which says a person who has failed or refused to perform legally ordered duties can be held liable for damages caused by that failure, doesn’t apply because the state agency is not a “person.”

John Papianou of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads, representing the businesses, argued that the PLCB’s interpretation of the law would produce an absurd result, as the agency should be held responsible for all the fees on special orders that it kept collecting as a go-between even after state law was amended to cut the board out of the process.

“The PLCB would have you believe that it could take, unlawfully, millions of dollars from the citizens of the commonwealth, and the best the courts could do is tell them to stop taking the money,” Papianou said. “As for what was taken, the people are out of luck.”

Papianou pointed back to a line of cases in which findings said state agencies could be made to pay damages under similar circumstances, and he argued that the Legislature didn’t make clear any intention to undo those precedents with its “other than the Commonwealth” language in the Statutory Construction Act.