Convenience store sues village of Cahokia, mayor over liquor license

By Bethany Krajelis | Jul 2, 2012

Village of Cahokia Mayor Gary Cornwell The Quick Stop Food Shop in St. Clair County has sued the village of Cahokia and Mayor Gary Cornwell for pulling its liquor license in March.

Village of Cahokia Mayor Gary Cornwell

The Quick Stop Food Shop in St. Clair County has sued the village of Cahokia and Mayor Gary Cornwell for pulling its liquor license in March.

Originally filed in the St. Clair County Circuit Court in May, the two-count complaint that seeks a writ of mandamus and at least a $5,000 judgment against the defendants was moved to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District last week.

The shop contends that the village confiscated its liquor license in violation of local ordinances and state statutes that require a three-day written notice and public hearing before a liquor license can be suspended or revoked. It also makes a claim for damages under Section 1983 "for economic losses it suffered as a result of the illegal revocation of its liquor license on March 1, 2012."

The complaint states that Cornwell, who serves as the village's liquor commissioner in his capacity as mayor, went to the shop with armed Cahokia police officers on March 1 when he confiscated the shop's liquor license from manager Omar Hamdan and ordered the immediate halt of alcohol sales.

Cornwell also gave Hamdan a letter stating that "upon my recent review of all liquor licenses, it has come to my attention that the lot line of your store at 955 Range Lane is within 100 feet of the Cahokia High School premises. This is a violation of state law and the village of Cahokia ordinances."

The letter, a copy of which was attached to the complaint, directed Hamdan "to stop selling alcohol immediately" and to contact village attorney Carmen Durso if he had any questions.

On behalf of Hamdan, Belleville attorney Jack Kloess sent a letter to Durso in April. That letter, also attached to the complaint, dubbed Cornwell's actions as not only "heavy handed," but also "contrary to law."

Kloess wrote that the shop has been selling liquor since it first opened in 2004 and its most recent license was valid through June 30. Because proper written notice and a public hearing were not provided, Kloess contends the village illegally revoked the shop's valid license. He further argued in his letter that state law and local ordinances provide an exception to the reason Cornwell stated for revocation.

"They both state that the restriction on the sale of alcoholic liquor within 100 feet of a school does not apply to a food shop where said sale is not the principal business carried on," Kloess wrote, explaining that no more than 20 to 30 percent of the shop's sales are alcohol-related.

The letter adds that "Mr. Hamdan has been very patient but he has lost significant revenue since the mayor's illegal actions. He would prefer to avoid litigation but will have no other option unless his license is returned immediately."

When the license wasn't returned, Kloess filed the complaint on behalf of Hamdan in St. Clair County Circuit Court about a month later. Northbrook attorney Jane M. Hay, who represents the defendants, removed the case to federal court on June 27 and filed a motion to dismiss on the same day.

"This court should dismiss plaintiff's state law claims because the plaintiff failed to exhaust its administrative remedies pursuant to the Illinois Liquor Control Act before bringing the state law claim for mandamus," Hay states in the motion. "Illinois requires exhaustion of administrative remedies before invoking judicial review. The federal claims should likewise be dismissed."

On behalf of the defendants, Hay also asserts that Cornwell "is entitled to absolute judicial immunity for the conduct alleged in the complaint."

In its complaint, the shop asks the court to issue a writ of mandamus to direct Cornwell to return the liquor license and follow applicable ordinances and statutes before trying to take it again.

The shop also seeks $5,000 in damages, as well as attorneys' fees and court costs, under its Section 1983 claim that the actions of the village and mayor violated its due process and equal protections rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The complaint also contends that the defendants' actions constituted illegal taking under the Fifth Amendment.

In addition to Hay, Northbrook attorney Brian Funk entered his appearances as counsel in the case for the defendants.

The St. Clair County case was 2012 MR 192.
The federal case citation is 12-cv-749-DRH-SCW.

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