Legal Considerations for Enforcement Actions, Penalties, and Appeals before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board

Table of Contents


California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC” or “Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control”) Licensees are subject to a range of enforcement actions for various statutory and regulatory violations. Indeed, one of the three pillars of the ABC mission statement is enforcement and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control engages in a variety of programs to “protect the public” by enforcing the provisions of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act. Following the enforcement action itself, if a violation is found, then the licensee is subject to a defined set of penalties promulgated within he “Penalty Guidelines” as discussed below. Then, if the licensee wishes to contest the penalty imposed by the ABC, the licensee may appeal the violation and penalty to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board. 

There are a myriad of rules which must be complied with, the noncompliance of which is subject to a process of adjudication of the violation, and if a violation is found, penalties.

In reaching a decision on a disciplinary action under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act (Bus. and Prof. Code Sections 2300, et seq.), and the Administrative Procedures Act (Govt. Code Sections 11400, et. seq.), the Department shall consider the disciplinary guidelines entitled “Penalty Guidelines”. Deviation from the guidelines is appropriate where the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in its sole discretion determines that the facts of the particular case warrant such a deviation- such as where facts in aggravation or mitigation exist. (4 CCR Sec.144; see also Business and Professions Code Sec. 25570, Sec. 23001, Government Code Section 11425.50(e), and Section 22, Article II, California Constitution).

California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Penalty Guidelines

The California Constitution authorizes the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, in its discretion to suspend or revoke any license to sell alcoholic beverages if it shall determine for good cause that the continuance of such license would be contrary to the public welfare or morals. The Department may use a range of progressive and proportional penalties. Typically, this range extends from Letters of Warning to Revocation. The regulations contain guidelines of a schedule of penalties that the Department usually imposes for the first offense of the law listed. Higher or lower penalties from the below schedule may be recommended based on the facts of the individual cases where supported by aggravating or mitigating circumstances. 

Aggravating Circumstances for ABC Penalties

Aggravating factors may include, but are not limited to:

  1. Prior disciplinary history
  2. Prior warning letters
  3. Licensee involvement
  4. Premises located in high crime area
  5. Lack of cooperation by the licensee in investigation
  6. Appearance and actual age of minor (if applicable)
  7. Continuing course or pattern of conduct

Mitigating Circumstances for ABC Penalties

Mitigating factors may include, but are not limited to:

  1. Length of licensure at subject premises without prior discipline or problems
  2. Positive action by licensee to correct problem
  3. Documented training of licensee and employees
  4. Cooperation by licensee in investigation

Penalty Schedule Imposed by the Department

Penalties for Section 25658 Violations and Other Violations Involving Minors

Sales of alcoholic beverages to person(s) under 2115 day suspension
Permitting person(s) under 21 to consume15 day suspension
Furnishing or causing to be furnished alcoholic beverage to person(s) under 2115 day suspension
2nd violation of Section 25658 within 36 months25 day suspension
3rd violation of Section 25658 within 36 monthsRevocation
Minor(s) on public premises-25665 B&P10 day suspension
Employment of minor(s)-25663 B&P10 day suspension
Unsupervised sales by person(s) under 1810 day suspension

Penalties for Section 25602 Violations

Sales to obviously intoxicated person(s)15 day suspension
2nd violation of 25602 within 3 years25 day suspension
3rd violation of 25602 within 3 years45 day suspension to revocation

Penalties for Sales and/or Consumption After Hours

By public15 day suspension
By employees and friends only10 day suspension
By employees only5 day suspension

Penalties for Licensee or Employee Not Permitting Inspection

Of Premises30 day suspension
Of Records30 days and indefinite until records produced

Penalties For Sale/Possession of Alcoholic Beverage Not Permitted By License

Sale15 day suspension
Possession10 day suspension

Penalties for Violations of Gambling Regulations

Organized (bookmaking, football cards, etc.)30 day suspension
Local (cards, dice, football & baseball pools, etc.)10 day suspension
Electronic/video games (slot machines, Poker, 21, etc.) Possession15 day suspension
Electronic/video with payoffs30 day suspension,
with 15 days stayed for 2 years

Penalties for Disorderly House, Prostitution, Lewd Conduct Violations

Occasional or isolated offenses30 day suspension
Recurring/aggravated offensesRevocation
Nude Entertainers, etc30 day suspension to revocation

Penalties for Violations Involving Narcotics

Transactions on licensed premisesRevocation
Paraphernalia, possession for saleRevocation, stayed for 3 years and a 20 day suspension
Failure to correct objectionable conditions30 day suspension to revocation

Penalties for Undisclosed Ownership

Undisclosed Ownership (qualified)15 day suspension indefinite until ownership corrected
Hidden Owner (not qualified)Revocation
Hidden owner-priority licenseRevocation

Penalties for Commission of Crime Involving Moral Turpitude

Committed on premisesRevocation
Committed away from premises (petty theft/shoplifting)Revocation stayed 3 yrs
Committed away from premises (other than petty theft)Revocation
Conviction of a crime involving moral turpitudeRevocation

Violation Of Conditions

Violation Of Conditions15 day suspension with 5 days stayed for one year
Exceeding license privileges5 day suspension to revocation
Harmful matter5 day suspension
Sale of alcoholic beverages while under suspensionDouble original suspension to revocation

Penalties for Receiving Stolen Property

By licensee on premisesRevocation
By employee on premisesRevocation stayed for 3 years, and a 20 day suspension

Penalties for Food Stamp Violations

Allowing purchases of alcoholic beverages10 day suspension
Food stamp trafficking (i.e. purchasing stamps at discount) by licenseeRevocation
Food stamp trafficking (i.e. purchasing stamps at discount) by employee, with premises involvementRevocation, stayed for one year and a 20 day suspension

Penalties for Keg Registration violations

Keg Registration violations10 day suspension
Operating Condition Violations5 or 10 day suspension indefinite until compliance
Misrepresenting Material Fact on ApplicationRevocation

Other Violations Enforced by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control

Illegal Solicitation of Alcoholic BeveragesRevocation
Employees accepting alcoholic drinks15 day suspension
Refilling with different brand15 day suspension
Refilling with same brand5 day suspension
Contaminated Bottles (insects, etc.)5 day suspension
Substitution of Brands15 day suspension
Club Licenses, Sale to Public10 day suspension
Sale to Purchase Between Retailers15 day suspension
Not Operating Bona Fide Eating Place10 day suspension indefinite until compliance
Licensee or Bartender Working In Premises While Intoxicated30 day suspension
Licensee or Employee Resisting Arrest or Interfering With Investigation35 day suspension to revocation 

Petition For Offer In Compromise (“POIC”)

Business and Professions Code Sec. 23098 authorizes the Department to accept a Petition for Offer in Compromise (“POIC”) in lieu of the service of a suspension of 15 days or less. The Department may accept a POIC in lieu of suspension if the total penalty imposed is less than 15 days, no including any period of stayed suspension that would result in a potential suspension being for a period greater than 15 days. Also, it cannot include any period of stayed revocation.

If the suspension is for a period of 15 days or less with some portion thereof stayed, the POIC shall be calculated based upon the period of actual suspension (not including the stayed portion). In such cases, if the stayed period of suspension is later reimposed, the Department will generally not accept a POIC in lieu of service the reimposed period of suspension. 

Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board (ABCAB)


The Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board  (“ABCAB” or the “Board”) was created through Article XX, Sec. 22 of the Constitution of the State of California . The ABCAB consists of three members appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation by a majority vote of all of the members elected to the Senate. Each member, at the time of their initial appointment, must be a resident of a different California County from one in which either of the other members resides. The members of the board may be removed from office by the Governor, and the legislature shall have the power, by a majority vote of all members elected to each house, to remove any member from office for dereliction of duty or corruption or incompetency.

The purpose of ABCAB is for any person aggrieved by a decision of ABC ( “Department”) to appeal that decision. Common issues which are appealed to the Board are the Department ordering any penalty assessment, issuing, denying, transferring, suspending or revoking any license for the manufacture, importation, or sale of alcoholic beverages.

Legal Standards for ABCAB Appeal; Subsequent Judicial Review

The Board reviews the Department’s decision subject to such limitations as may be imposed by the Legislature. In the appeal, the Board does not receive evidence in addition to that considered by the department, which means no de novo review. Review by the Board of a decision of the Department is instead limited to the questions whether the Department has “proceeded without or in excess of its jurisdiction, whether the department has proceeded in the manner required by law, whether the decision is supported by the findings, and whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence in light of the whole record.” 

In appeals where the Board finds that there is relevant evidence which, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, could not have been produced or which was improperly excluded at the hearing before the Department, the Board may enter an order remanding the matter to the Department for reconsideration in light of such evidence. In all other appeals the Board shall enter an order either reaffirming or reversing the decision of the Department. 

When the order reverses the decision of the Department, the Board may direct the reconsideration of the matter in light of its order and may direct the Department to take such further action as is specially enjoined upon it by law, but the order shall not limit or control in any way the discretion vested by law in the Department. 

Moreover, orders of the Board are subject to judicial review upon petition of the ABC director or any party aggrieved by such order. This means that any party aggrieved by the Board’s order can file a Writ of Mandamus seeking judicial review of the administrative order from the Board.

Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board (ABCAB) Appeals Process in 12 steps

Flow Chart of California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Appeals Board Process
Figure 1: A flow chart of the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Appeals Board Process. Source:
  1. Filing of Appeal: Appellant files a Notice of Appeal with the Board and all other parties
  2. Certificate of Decision (“COD”): The Board requested the COD (Certificate of Decision) from the Department of ABC.
  3. Confirmation of Timeliness: The Board confirms if appeal is timely. If appeal in not timely, it will be dismissed.
  4. Acknowledgment Letter and Request for Payment: Once the COD is received from the Department of ABC, the Board sends an acknowledgement letter and the Department send request for payment to appellant.
  5. 15 Days to Pay Costs: Appellant has 15 days to pay the cost of the record to the Department. If payment is not received by the due date, appeal will be dismissed.
  6. Receipt of Record: The Board and appellant receive record from the Department including the administrative hearing transcript and exhibits.
  7. Briefing Schedule Sent: The Board sends the briefing schedule to all parties with due dates for the opening brief, reply brief, and closing brief.
  8. Hearing Date Set: The Board sets appeal for the hearing and sends the date and other details to all parties.
  9. Request for Oral Argument: At least 21 days before the hearing, appellant must request oral argument.
  10. Case Review by Board: Board members and staff review the record and briefs and analyze cases for upcoming board hearings.
  11. Oral Argument: Oral argument is conducted where each party argues its case before the Board, which then deliberates the case in closed session
  12. Decision Issued: The Decisions are issued, sent to all parties, and posted to the Board’s website.


At Rogoway Law, we help our clients navigate the high-stakes ABC enforcement and appeals process. If your beverage business is facing an enforcement action from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control or an appeal before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board, please don’t hesitate to contact us today for a complimentary initial consultation with our beverage law attorneys.

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