Beer permit suspension leads to lawsuit

By Bob Robinson

Star Staff

   Carter County Chancellor G. Richard Johnson, apparently, will decide the outcome of a 180-day suspension of off-premises beer sales imposed on Roadrunner Market No. 141, 416 Highway 91, Elizabethton.
   Roadrunner is expected to continue to sell beer during the Christmas and New Year's holiday period, however, until the matter is heard in Chancery Court, possibly Jan. 7, 2002, the next earliest court date.
   On Dec. 18, Warren Broyles, principal, and Mountain Empire Oil Co., 3583 W. Market St., Johnson City, on behalf of Roadrunner Market No. 141, filed suit in Carter County Chancery Court against the City of Elizabethton Beverage Board.
   The suit seeks a stay on enforcement of the suspension until a hearing can be held in Chancery Court on the merits of the case. The suit also requests the court award reasonable attorney's fee and court costs.
   On Dec. 13, the board suspended the off-premises beer permit of Roadrunner Market No. 141 for 180 days at a show cause hearing on the company's fourth offense of selling beer to those under 21 years of age.
   The suspension was scheduled to begin at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 21 unless the company appealed the board's decision in Chancery Court within seven days, which it did.
   The board originally issued the off-premises beer permit to Ralph Fellers and Warren K. Broyles of Mountain Empire, 3583 W. Market St., Johnson City, on Dec. 12, 1997.
   At the show cause hearing, Richard W. Pectol, attorney for Mountain Empire, asked the board for a 30-day extension because a witness, a former Roadrunner employee, failed to appear and, therefore, was unable to testify.
   At the show cause hearing, Pectol told the board he did not wish to present any other evidence at that time.
   Larry Shell, Elizabethton assistant police chief, testified that the latest Roadrunner violation occurred on Sept. 19, 2001, during an undercover operation conducted at 19 permit-holder locations in the city.
   Roadrunner Market No. 141 was the only store found in violation of the ordinance, according to the police report.
   In previous Roadrunner appearances before the board:
   On Dec. 9, 1999, a $250 civil penalty and three-day suspension was imposed on the first violation.
   On July 20, 2000, a $750 civil penalty was imposed on the second violation.
   On Sept. 13, 2001, a $1,500 civil penalty was imposed on the third violation.
   The suit, in part, alleges:
   * The Notice of Show Cause Hearing indicated Roadrunner "would be offered the option of paying a civil penalty as an alternative to a revocation or suspension of the permit;"
   * The board suspended the license without hearing evidence from Roadrunner witnesses;
   * Roadrunner officials have conducted themselves and their business in a manner consistent with being a responsible owner;
   * The operation of Roadrunner "has not been deemed, nor is it, detrimental to the public, health, safety and morals of the citizens of the City of Elizabethton;"
   * Roadrunner staff "have conducted extensive training sessions with their employees regarding the avoidance of underage beer sales to minors;" and,
   * The board acted in an "arbitrary, capricious and unlawful manner without proper deliberation."
   Attorney Pectol also filed a $500 surety bond with Chancery Court.
   The Elizabethton City Council also serves as the Elizabethton Beverage Board.