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Brazelton Properties, Inc. v. City of Huntsville

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

April 21, 2017

Brazelton Properties, Inc., d/b/a Plush Horse
v.
City of Huntsville

         Appeal from Madison Circuit Court (CV-14-902150)

          THOMAS, Judge.

         Brazelton Properties, Inc., d/b/a Plush Horse ("Brazelton"), appeals a summary judgment entered by the Madison Circuit Court in favor of the City of Huntsville ("the city"). We dismiss the appeal.

         Background

         Brazelton owns certain real property located within the geographical limits of the city ("the property") on which businesses such as dinner theaters, entertainment venues, and nightclubs have operated for a number of years. In August 2014, Brazelton submitted an application to the city seeking its approval for a lounge retail liquor license regarding the property ("the 2014 application"). The next month, the city's Liquor License Review Committee ("the committee") denied approval of the 2014 application after concluding that the property did not contain a sufficient number of parking spaces as required by the relevant city ordinances. The city council thereafter upheld the committee's decision.

         In October 2014, Brazelton initiated an action against the city in the circuit court. Brazelton's complaint, as amended, stated, in relevant part:

         "COUNT I

"....
"15. While a municipality has broad discretion to approve or disapprove the issuance of liquor licenses, such a decision granting or denying a liquor license must be set aside on judicial review if the municipality acted arbitrarily or capriciously.
"16. The [c]ity's standards as [they] relate[] to the number of parking spaces necessary in order to obtain a liquor license are not enforced equally. Indeed, on this very [p]roperty the [c]ity has taken inconsistent positions. While the [property] has always been designated as a place of assembly, its approved occupancy has been as high as 750, and with the current parking, was able to obtain a liquor license.[1] Presently, its occupancy has been reduced to 585[, ] and the [c]ity has refused to issue a liquor license stating that the current parking (the count of which varied between 205 and 245) is still short of the required 255. Yet the [c]ity refused Brazelton['s] request to reduce the occupancy rating down from 585 to 425 so as to meet the 'required' parking spaces. Clearly, the [c]ity keeps moving the goal post for Brazelton ....
"17. Upon information and belief, Brazelton ... is situated no differently than other establishments who have been granted liquor licenses. Such disparate and unequal treatment in the application of the rules concerning the issuance of the liquor license is arbitrary and capricious.
"18. Moreover, the unequal application by the city of the parking space requirement for the issuance of a liquor license shows that this regulation bears no substantial relationship to the health, safety, morals and general welfare and is therefore invalid.
"19. Accordingly, the [c]ity's decision to deny the liquor license to Brazelton ... is due to be set aside as arbitrary and capricious.

         "COUNT II -- Denial of Equal Protection

"20. Brazelton ... adopts and incorporates by reference the allegations set forth in paragraphs 1 through 19 as if fully set forth herein.
"21. The [c]ity's application of its regulations and ordinances in denying the liquor license to Brazelton violated Brazelton's right to equal protection guaranteed it by Sections 1, 6[, ] and 13 of the Alabama Constitution. Specifically, the [c]ity selectively applied its licensing requirements to [Brazelton] in violation of Alabama's constitution. Therefore, the [c]ity's actions should be found to be void as a matter of law.
"22. ... Brazelton ... has suffered substantial financial harm as a result of the selective and arbitrary enforcement by the [c]ity of its regulations.

         "COUNT III -- Inverse Condemnation

"23. [Brazelton] adopts and incorporates by reference the allegations set forth in paragraphs 1 through 22[] as if ...

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