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Taleb v. City of Tuscaloosa

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

November 15, 2019

Saba Ahmed Taleb
v.
City of Tuscaloosa

          Appeal from Tuscaloosa Circuit Court (CV-18-900925)

          EDWARDS, JUDGE.

         Saba Ahmed Taleb owns the Fast Stop Market ("FSM"), which is located in Tuscaloosa. She applied to the City of Tuscaloosa, seeking approval for an off-premises retail beer license and an off-premises retail wine license ("the retail alcohol licenses") so that she could sell wine and beer, to be consumed off the premises, at FSM. The city council first considered Taleb's applications for the retail alcohol licenses at a city-council meeting on July 24, 2018; the minutes of the July 24, 2018, city-council meeting indicate that one person appeared at the council meeting and spoke in opposition to Taleb's applications. The city council tabled Taleb's applications until July 31, 2018, at which time it heard from Taleb's husband and the manager of FSM, Yaqoob Alshega; a representative of the Tuscaloosa Police Department, Officer J.D. Burkhalter; the city attorney, Glenda Webb; and concerned citizens, Eddie Harris, Deborah Williams, Elizabeth Elliot, and an unidentified speaker. Councilor Eddie Pugh and Councilor Raevan Howard both made remarks on the record, and Antonious Mills from the city's revenue department also answered questions posed by the city council.

         Officer Burkhalter presented the police calls received from the area within a quarter-mile radius of FSM by the Tuscaloosa Police Department between January 2017 and June 2018. He explained that the police department had received the following calls: 43 related to domestic incidents, 23 related to the breaking and entering of a vehicle, 19 related to assaults, 9 related to discharging a firearm and 1 "gun call," 8 related to burglary, 8 related to drug use or sale, 2 related to sexual offenses, 2 related to vehicle theft, 1 related to driving while intoxicated, 1 related to rape, and 1 related to robbery. Officer Burkhalter also indicated that the police department had no objection to Taleb's applications. He later, when questioned by Councilor Pugh, stated that the police department had record of seven vehicular accidents in the vicinity of FSM. Mills, when asked, reminded the city council that three establishments located between one and five miles from FSM had retail alcohol licenses to sell beer and/or wine.

         Alshega spoke before the city council in support of Taleb's applications. Alshega presented a petition in support of the applications containing 85 signatures. He also stated that FSM had never had the police called to the store and that FSM had had "no problems."

         Local resident Harris stated that he opposed the applications. He explained that he did so because, "if we keep allowing other people to come in and sell alcohol, it's going to get worse and worse." Similarly, local resident Elliot commented that "what we do not need [is] this ... alcohol sold in our neighborhood because if you start selling alcohol in our neighborhood, then there's going to be problems. People are going to start hanging around these stores." The unidentified speaker also voiced disapproval of the applications, stating that "we all know what [the sale of alcohol] brings to the neighborhood." Local resident Williams appeared to be in favor of the applications, remarking that FSM was located closer to her residence than the nearest existing retailer with a license to sell alcohol and that it would be easier for her to shop there than to travel to the nearest existing retailer, which is approximately one-half mile away from FSM.

         Councilor Pugh remarked that Webb had provided the city council with certain studies during the "pre-council" and that those studies concerned "how alcohol contributed to crime in neighborhoods." Councilor Pugh also stated that "we're doing so much to move West End forward that [issuing the retail alcohol licenses] looks like it would be something that would be moving [West End] back. Alcohol and crime is an issue everywhere and we don't need to be adding it to this neighborhood and this district." Councilor Pugh further remarked that "it looks like there's a pretty good issue with maybe some traffic safety in this area" and commented that the council should carefully consider "[t]he safety of adding something like this" in what he described as "that dangerous turn" in the roadway upon which FSM sits.

         Webb mentioned that she had provided the city council with two studies during the "pre-council": one from the United States Department of Justice, the Bureau of Justices Statistics, and one from the University of Indiana.[1]According to Webb, the Department of Justice study concerned "alcohol and crime and the relationship between alcohol and crime"; she noted that the study "documented for 20 years the relationship between alcohol and crime." She also said that the 2010 University of Indiana study concluded that "more alcohol sale sites mean more neighborhood violence."

         Councilor Phyllis Odom reported that the city council had received four letters in support of the applications and five telephone calls from residents opposed to the applications. Councilor Howard stated near the conclusion of the hearing that she was leaning toward denying the applications. She said that she had based her decision on the information she had received and stated that,

"given the relation to where this store is located in relationship to other stores in West Tuscaloosa and given the fact that I believe we have enough information to prove that the increase of the sale of alcohol and beer and wine in [a] communit[y] [contributes] to negative effects [on] that community."

At the conclusion of the hearing, the council voted to deny Taleb's applications for the retail alcohol licenses. Taleb appealed the council's denial of her applications to the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court ("the trial court"). The trial court held a brief hearing on October 4, 2018, at which only Alshega testified; his testimony was similar to the remarks he made before the city council. The trial court was also presented documentary evidence, including two photographs, which depicted an aerial view of the FSM premises and the surrounding residential area and a front view of FSM, including its parking lot, respectively, and a copy of the minutes of the July 24, 2018, city-council meeting, at which the city council approved off-premises licenses to sell beer and wine to an establishment named Holt Market and approved two retail liquor licenses for two restaurants. The aerial view of the FSM premises reveals that it is situated at the start of a curve in the roadway and that, as best as can be determined, it is surrounded by houses and has located behind it a wooded area.

         On January 30, 2019, the trial court entered a judgment affirming the city council's denial of Taleb's applications. Taleb appeals, arguing that the city council's denial of her applications for the retail alcohol licenses was arbitrary and capricious because, she asserts, the denial was not supported by evidence indicating that the issuance of the licenses would create a nuisance or be clearly detrimental to the adjacent residential neighborhoods or to the public health, safety, and welfare. We affirm.

         Appeals from the denial or approval of a license to sell alcoholic beverages arising in the City of Tuscaloosa are governed by Act No. 98-342, Ala. Acts 1998. Hadi Store, LLC v. City of Tuscaloosa, [Ms. 2180042, August 30, 2019] _____ So.3d ____, ____ (Ala. Civ. App. 2019). As we explained in Hadi Store,

"[t]his matter is governed by Act No. 98-342, Ala. Acts 1998 ('the Act'), a local act which superseded § 28-1-7, Ala. Code 1975, to the extent that that statute applied to the city.[2] Section 28-1-7(c) provides, in pertinent part, that a circuit court's review of a municipal governing body's denial of an application for a liquor license 'shall be expedited de novo proceedings, heard by a circuit judge without a jury who shall consider any testimony presented by the city governing body and any new evidence presented in explanation or contradiction of the testimony.' (Emphasis added.) ...

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