Constitutionality of New Orleans alcohol permit ordinance questioned

By Holland Phillips | Sep 27, 2013

NEW ORLEANS—A local property owner has filed for an injunction against the city, charging that its ordinance preventing new individuals from obtaining or renewing alcohol permits is unconstitutional.

Dazzma Johnson and Melvin Paul Robiho filed suit against the City of New Orleans in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court.

According to Johnson and Robiho, a previous tenant operated a bar on the premises and held licenses for the sale of high and low content alcohol for consumption on the premises. The new tenant, Johnson, obtained written verification from the City confirming that the property could be lawfully used as a bar and lounge on May 7. Upon receiving this verification, the owner, Robiho, spent more than $10,000 in improvements to the property in order to lease it to Johnson, who in turn spent more than $12,000 in expenses and liabilities, the lawsuit claims.

After making the improvements, Johnson received a letter from the Department of Safety and Permits advising her that she would not be able to obtain necessary alcohol permits to use the property on A. P. Tureaud Avenue as a bar unless the City Council approved an appeal of an alcohol permit moratorium, which the New Orleans City Council renewed Jan. 10, 2013.

The plaintiff question the constitutionality of this ordinance preventing persons who do not hold current valid alcoholic beverage permits from obtaining the proper licensure. The city is accused of establishing an ordinance that violates nonconforming use, the New Orleans City Charter, and vested property rights.

The plaintiffs seek both preliminary and permanent injunctions prohibiting the city from interfering with the plaintiff’s right to engage in the lawful sale of alcohol and a declaration that the moratorium ordinance is unconstitutional. They also seek injunctive relief in addition to costs of the proceedings and attorney fees.

The plaintiff is represented by Edward R. Washington III of New Orleans-based The Washington Law Group LLC.

The case has been assigned to Division L Judge Kern A. Reese.

Case no. 2013-06719.

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