After nearly two years, the legal battle between state Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor Township, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has come to an end with the elected official claiming victory.
“Finally ... the LCB has learned that it works for us, not the other way around,” Burns said in a statement.
The PLCB had appealed a Commonwealth Court ruling in Burns’ favor to the state supreme court, which declined to hear the case in January.
That means the lower court’s decision stands and the agency must produce the requested documents within 30 days.
The source of the case was Burns’ May 2019 request to know how many deactivated restaurant liquor licenses are available for auction in each commonwealth county.
His inquire was denied because the PLCB claimed “the number of licenses was a ‘trade secret’ and that it was exempt from disclosure because it was part of internal deliberations of the agency,” a release from the representative’s office said.
The decision was appealed to the courts and Burns hired attorney Terry Mutchler to represent him at his own cost.
In June of 2020, the Commonwealth Court ruled that the auctions are a government function and thus public information.
“This will turn out to be one of the most significant cases in Pennsylvania history,” Mutchler said in the release. “For transparency, it’s a very, very big win.”
The state liquor control board officials hoped for another opportunity to present their arguments, but the agency respects the court’s decision not to hear the case and provide Burns with the requested records “within 30 days from the date of the supreme court’s order denying allowance of appeal,” a PLCB representative said.
Burns’ drive for this information was the “plight of the mom-and-pop business who have been undercut by the LCB’s license auctions.”
He believes those functions have devalued licenses in rural areas such as Cambria County.
“Small businesses have a right to know how many liquor licenses are available in their county so they can make sound business decisions about whether to sell or hold onto their license,” Burns said. “The bureaucrats in Harrisburg may look at this as dollars and cents, or protecting prerogatives, but to me this is about families trying to keep food on the table and doing what is right by the people I represent.”