Appeal from An Administrative Denial of a Liquor License Hearing In Texas

Generally, on appeal from an administrative denial of a liquor license, the district court conducts an abbreviated hearing and renders a decision within ten days after the appeal is filed. See id. 11.67(a), (b). At the district court's discretion, the decision to withhold the license may be suspended pending the abbreviated hearing. Id. 11.67(b)(4). However, a final judgment, once rendered, takes immediate effect and cannot be suspended pending an appeal to the court of appeals. Id. The statute makes no provision for a disposition in the event the district court does not render judgment within ten days. We address that issue today. The Court held that section 11.67(b)(2) requires all proceedings in the district court to be completed within ten days of the date the appeal is filed. Cook v. Walker, 529 S.W.2d 762, 762 (Tex. 1975); Cook v. Spears, 524 S.W.2d 290, 292 (Tex. 1975). In Spears, the Court discussed the legislative history of article 666-15e, section 7a of the Texas Liquor Control Act, which is the predecessor to Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code section 11.67(b). 524 S.W.2d at 291. The Court observed that the earliest version of the Act required only that an appeal be tried within ten days or at the earliest possible time thereafter "in the event the Judge is not able to try such cause within such ten (10) day period." Id. at 291 n.2 (emphasis omitted) (citing Texas Liquor Control Act, 44th Leg., 2d C.S., ch. 467, art. I, 14, 1935 Tex. Gen. Laws 1795, 1803). Originally, the Legislature envisioned the hearing at the district court level to be a trial on the merits. Section 11.67(b)'s predecessor directed the district court to conduct the appeal as a trial de novo. Texas Liquor Control Act, 44th Leg., 2d C.S., ch. 467, art. I, 14, 1935 Tex. Gen. Laws 1795, 1803. Following the statute's enactment, the provision granting the district court de novo review of a Liquor Control Board order was declared unconstitutional. See Bradley v. Texas Liquor Control Bd., 108 S.W.2d 300, 302 (Tex. Civ. App.-Austin 1937, no writ) (determining that a trial de novo would be an unconstitutional attempt by the Legislature to confer administrative powers and duties on the judiciary). The current version of the statute incorporates a substantial evidence standard of review to avoid the constitutional infraction identified in Bradley. See TEX. ALCO. BEV. CODE 11.67 revisor's note. In the district court, there is no live witness testimony nor introduction of evidence outside the record of the administrative proceeding, as the word "trial" might otherwise imply. However, references to a district court "trial" on appeal and "trial on the merits" have not been stricken from the current statutory language. See id. 11.67(b)(2),(4).