Interested in A Potential Dram Shop Lawsuit Against Austin Avenue Bar? There Are A Few Things You Should Know
As the head of the firm that's sued more negligent alcohol providers than anyone else in Texas, I'm pretty familiar with the extreme toll that over-service exacts on too many citizens of our state. But it doesn't seem as though the average person has the same level of awareness about this problem. As part of my attempt to increase the public's knowledge, I sometimes take a look through the TABC's records of complaints and report my findings to the public. If you would like to talk about a potential Dram Shop case, please call me at (855) 326-0000.
A Plano bar with a lot of history--some of it troubled--Austin Avenue has catered to the city's largely-deprived bargoers (Central Plano isn't exactly a bustling nightlife corridor) since 1995. A major pitfall in the form of a building-destroying fire happened in 2011, followed by several years of inactivity while the owner battled administrative pitfalls like insurance and zoning complications. The bar's Richardson location remained open for the duration and the renovated Plano spot re-opened in 2016.
Having read reviews for the place in the course of researching this, it looks like patrons have had a wide range of experiences, but that's pretty normal for any business. Officers of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) also showed up to both Austin Avenue locations, but not for drink specials or Friday night karaoke. The agency was called out to both bars seven times since 2015 for a range of alleged violations.
To be clear, just because Austin Avenue was investigated, that doesn't mean it knowingly or routinely flaunted TABC regulation. On the other hand, if investigators determine that the location didn't violate TABC code, that doesn't necessarily mean that the alleged incident didn't happen. Sometimes there just isn't enough evidence of a criminal or administrative violation to confirm a claim. All we're doing here is conveying public information about times that concerned citizens and law enforcement agencies reported suspected problems to the TABC.
TABC Investigations of Austin Avenue Since 2015
Richardson - 1801 N Plano Road
4/27/2015: A citizen reached out to the TABC to allege that at least one Austin Avenue employee (a "Licensee/Permittee") was intoxicated. In addition, the citizen alleged that Austin Avenue patrons consumed liquor on its premises after its legally-required closing time. (In TABC matters the word permit usually relates to the handling of liquor, while the word license refers to beer.)
TABC officers investigated these claims, but couldn't find enough evidence to confirm either a drunk employee or after-hours alcohol service. The complaint was closed without further action on 6/06/2015.
2/12/2016: A patron of the Richardson location complained to the TABC that Austin Avenue had served or sold alcoholic beverages to an intoxicated person.
TABC officers looked into the allegations for two months, but were unable to find enough evidence to corroborate the claim. The ticket was closed without disposition on 4/12/2016.
6/27/2016: The most recent report made to the TABC about the Richardson location of Austin Avenue involved a series of allegations. A citizen alleged that the bar permitted the possession of drugs on its premises, sold alcohol to an intoxicated person, and failed to call anyone when a breach of the peace took place on site.
Officers investigated the allegations but were unable to find sufficient evidence of drugs, over-service, or a breach of the peace of a nature that required reporting. The complaint was closed without further action on 9/20/2016.
Plano - 935 W Parker Road Suite 410
4/29/2016: According to the Plano citizen who reached out to the TABC, this location allegedly served or sold alcohol to an already-intoxicated person.
Concrete evidence of this infraction is sometimes difficult to produce, as neither the person who got pickled nor the bar have much incentive to fess up to the over-service. Even receipts can tell conflicting stories, since it's not easy to unquestionably say that the person who bought a drink is the one who consumed it.
All that is to say that TABC investigators dutifully looked into the citizen's allegation, but were unable to find enough evidence that the bar had over-served someone at the time of the complaint. The ticket was closed without disposition on 6/06/2016.
6/27/2016: A citizen contacted the TABC to complain about what at first glance seems to have been a busy night. The citizen made four allegations:
- The bar sold or delivered alcohol to an intoxicated person;
- Alcohol was served or consumed on the premises during prohibited hours;
- A breach of the peace occurred on site;
- The bar didn't call anyone to report the breach of the peace.
Given the vagaries of the TABC public disclosure form, it's hard to say exactly what happened. It's kind of fun imagining the drunken after-hours brawl that could roll all these complaints into one event, but I'd much rather have a more thorough account from the agency's reporting system. My gripes aside, though, the TABC investigators only took dispositive action with respect to the bar's failure to report the breach of the peace. Presumably they were not able to find enough evidence to confirm the after-hours drinking or the over-service.
Austin Avenue received a written warning for its failure to report and the complaint was closed on 8/23/2016.
8/29/2016: A Plano resident reached out to the TABC to complain that this location sold and/or served alcohol to an intoxicated patron.
Investigators do not appear to have found sufficient evidence to confirm this incident, and the complaint was closed without disposition on 10/13/2016.
6/25/2018: A law enforcement agency, likely the Plano PD, advised the TABC of a pair of potential violations. According to the information obtained at the time, officers alleged that Austin Avenue served alcohol to an intoxicated person, and also refused to allow an official inspection of the bar during regular business hours.
The first allegation, while obviously unacceptable, is one we see a lot and forms much of the basis of dram shop law. We write a lot about how over-service is a serious hazard to bar patrons and the people around them, both those in arm's reach and those they might later encounter while swerving around on the road.
The second allegation, while administrative in nature, is still quite serious. Establishments that serve alcohol agree when obtaining their license that TABC representatives may inspect or search their premises as a matter of law. In the terms laid down by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code:
A person commits an offense (Class A misdemeanor) if the person refuses to allow the commission, an authorized representative of the commission, or a peace officer to enter a licensed or permitted premises. [Section 101.04]
Armed with these allegations, TABC officers took a look at Austin Avenue. It seems like the transgressions were well-documented or easily proven, however, because the official complaint ticket was open only four days before it was closed on 6/29/2018. According to the report the TABC confirmed some violations:
- Criminal violations for an instance of public intoxication (with an additional misdemeanor charge of Resisting Arrest);
- Administrative violations for serving alcohol to an intoxicated person as indicated by the initial complaint.
Despite these listed violations, no disposition is noted on the complaint ticket. No civil penalties (fines), no arrests, no nothing. As for refusing the inspection, it doesn't appear the investigation confirmed that and no further action was taken related to the matter.
Texas Law Allows Victims to Sue Bars for Negligent Over-service
If this page has inspired you to learn more about Texas Dram Shop/liquor liability law, we encourage you to take a look at our comprehensive guide to the topic.