This post is part of our ongoing series translating the lawyer-gibberish of Pennsylvania lawsuits into something understandable. For the definitions of the terms in bold, check out the post that launched this series. A list of the posts in the series is also at the end of this article.

So, we’ve made it to the final countdown: trial. It’s time for winners (and losers) to be decided. Only a small fraction of cases make it this far. For example, in 2018 here in Lancaster County, only 72 of the 4,306 civil cases on the docket (1.6%) were tried. And the majority of those were handled by an arbitration board. Most cases are settled or are resolved through dispositive motions.

But even if your case is not one of those that makes it this far, what might happen at the end will impact your case and settlement strategy. So it’s worth thinking about this final step.

Arbitration

The most common form of trial is not truly a trial at all. For cases with less than $50,000 in dispute, the case is submitted to a panel of three arbitrators. (This amount varies from county to county, but this is Lancaster County’s line.) The arbitrators are experienced lawyers who hear testimony and evidence from all sides then reach a collective decision. No judge will be present for the arbitration.

The advantage to arbitration is that you get a decision much faster than waiting for a Court of Common Pleas judge to be available.

Trial (Jury and Non-Jury)

The traditional Law and Order style trial is another alternative. Cases worth more than the arbitration limit or which ask for injunctive relief go here. Injunctive relief is when you ask the Court to issue an order forcing someone to do something (like getting off your property) or to not do something (like coming back without your permission).

There are two flavors of trial.

A jury trial is when a group of citizens act as the decision-makers. The judge is in the courtroom to rule on objections and control the proceedings, but the jurors make the ultimate decision. You will not always have a jury with 12 members like you see in the movies.

A non-jury trial is when the judge acts both to control the proceedings AND makes the final decision. There are strategic reasons to ask for a jury or non-jury trial, so talk with your lawyer about this at the very beginning of your case (you have to ask when you file your first documents).

The Big Decision

Whether you are in an arbitration or a trial, typically, the plaintiff must prove each claim by “a preponderance of the evidence.” This standard is lower than you will see in criminal cases (which are decided “beyond a reasonable doubt”).

An easy way to remember “a preponderance of the evidence” is that it means more likely than not or 51% sure. So if more than half of the arbitrators or jurors agree with you, you win! And they do not have to be absolutely certain you are right; just that it is more likely you are right.

There are a handful of claims where the burden shifts between the parties or a higher burden applies, so confirm with your lawyer what the standard is for your case.

The decision, whether by an arbitration panel, judge, or jury, is converted to a judgment. This judgment is filed of public record in the courthouse.

Appeal

What if you (or the other side) don’t like the outcome? If you think a mistake was made, you can take an appeal to a higher authority.

From an arbitration, you appeal to the Court of Common Pleas.

From a trial, you appeal to one of Pennsylvania’s intermediate appellate courts, the Pennsylvania Superior Court or the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

Examples of errors might be that the arbitrators or judge did not let you use a certain witness or piece of evidence. Or that the wrong legal standard was read to the jury.

Just remember that “I think they got it wrong” is not a reason for an appeal. You get only one bite at the apple. So put your best foot forward at the arbitration or trial. And if you are worried the case is not going well for you? You can always agree to a settlement even after the trial starts…

Check out the rest of our series “Explaining PA Lawsuits Using Plain Language”:

Brandon Harter is a litigator and technology guru at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from William & Mary Law School and advises clients on issues of Civil Litigation & Dispute ResolutionMunicipal Law, and chairs the firm’s Tech Law Group.

More small business relief has arrived! On Monday, June 8, 2020, Governor Wolf announced additional relief for small businesses in Pennsylvania.  The relief funding consists of $225 million of the $4 billion provided to the Commonwealth through the CARES Act. In addition, the Lancaster County Small Business Recovery and Sustainability Fund is also launching grants to local businesses.

State Relief

The state relief from Governor Wolf will not consist of loans; instead, the fund will consist of grants to applicants.  However, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (the “PA DCED”) will not administer it.  Instead, a series of non-profit lenders known as community development financial institutions (the “CDFI”), such as Community First Fund, will be handling the funds.

The Governor announced in a press conference on Monday that the goal of the program is to help small businesses that have not been helped from earlier efforts, including the Paycheck Protection Program.  There will be a common application created for the CDFIs to use, and it should be ready by the end of June.

The state will divide the relief into three programs:

Historically Disadvantaged Business Revitalization Program

This program offers $100 million for small businesses:

  • that have experienced a loss as a result of the order to close all non-life sustaining businesses
  • that have or will incur additional costs in order to adapt to new business operations due to COVID-19, and
  • where socially and economically disadvantaged individuals own at least fifty-one percent (51%) of the company and control management and daily operations.

Main Street Business Revitalization Program

The next program offers $100 million for small businesses that realized a loss as a result of the order to close all non-life sustaining businesses and have or will incur additional costs in order to adapt business operations due to COVID-19.

Loan Payment Deferment and Loss Reserve Program

The final program will provide $25 million to the CDFI, which will allow the CDFI’s to offer forbearance and payment relief to existing borrowers of the CDFI.  The intention is that these funds are for borrowers of the CDFI who are struggling due to COVID but also to provide support to the CDFI’s who are experiencing increased borrower defaults.

Grants will be capped at $50,000 per applicant.  The Governor has not yet announced the priority of awards but has stated that they will not be on a first-come, first-serve basis.  To qualify, businesses must have less than 25 employees and less than $1 million in annual sales plus have been in operation as of February 15, 2020.  All applicants must submit a recent tax return.

Recipients should use the grant funds to cover operating expenses during the shutdown and to transition a small business for re-opening.  They may also use grant funds for technical assistance, such as training and guidance for business owners.

Local Relief

In addition to the CDFI’s management of these new state programs, Lancaster County launched a new website for local businesses to apply for free personal protective equipment (“PPE”).  Businesses must have less than 100 employees to apply.

Lancaster County also received $25 million of federal aid, which the Lancaster County Small Business Recovery and Sustainability Fund (the “Fund”) will administer as grants to local businesses.

Phase I

Phase I of the Fund will provide $10 million to small Lancaster County businesses who have a demonstrated need for working capital or retrofit. To qualify, the business must have 20 or fewer employees.

The application for this phase will go live on Monday, June 15, 2020 at 7 a.m.   The grants provided will not be on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Phase II

The Fund has not yet finalized details for Phase II, but there should be an additional $10 million aimed at small businesses with 100 or less employees.

To find out more information regarding the Lancaster County Small Business Recovery and Sustainability Fund, click  .

To find out more about Phase I application, click and   for their summary sheet.

To read other news about more small business relief during COVID, click here for my blog post on recent updates to the Paycheck Protection Program.

Nichole Baer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Stetson University, College of Law and practices in several areas, including BusinessCommercial Real EstateEstate Planning, and Estate Administration.

On June 3, 2020, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 7010, the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020 (the “Act”).  President Trump then signed it into law 2 days later.  The Act makes significant changes and updates to the Paycheck Protection Program (the “PPP”).

Such changes include, but are not limited to:

  • Increased Time to Use Funds: The Act has modified the time allowed by borrowers to use PPP loan funds from eight weeks to twenty-four weeks. Borrowers can still elect to use the eight-week period.  [June 16, 2020 Updated – based on new guidance from the U.S. Treasury only borrowers who received funds prior to June 5, 2020 may elect between the two use periods. Borrowers who receive funds on or after June 5, 2020 must use the twenty-four week period].
  • Lowered Payroll Funds Amount – Prior to the Act, PPP borrowers had to use at least seventy-five percent (75%) of the funds for payroll-related expenses as discussed prior (to qualify for forgiveness). The Act changed that to sixty percent (60%).
    • There is a catch here. The prior law permitted partial forgiveness if a borrower used than 75% of funds for payroll costs. Now under the Act, forgiveness is eliminated entirely if less than 60% of funds are used for payroll-related expenses. [June 16, 2020 Updated – based on new guidance from the U.S. Treasury, partial forgiveness will be permitted for those who use less than 60% of loan funds for payroll-related expenses].
  • Two New Ways to Get Forgiveness – The Act provides two new exceptions for borrowers looking to obtain full forgiveness of their PPP loan aimed specifically at borrowers who have not been able to restore their workforce numbers.  The amount of loan forgiveness under these exceptions will be determined without a reduction in the number of full-time equivalent employees (the “FTE”) if the borrower, in good faith, can document:
    • An inability to rehire individuals who were employees of the borrower on February 14, 2020 and an inability to hire similarly qualified employees for unfilled positions on or before December 31, 2020; or
    • An inability to return to the same level of business operations at or before February 15, 2020 due to compliance with guidance issued by HHS, CDC, or OSHA between March 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020. This guidance must relate to maintenance of standards for sanitation, social distancing, or any other worker or customer safety requirements because of COVID-19. Please note, this exception does not appear to take into account state restrictions and guidance that reduced business operations.
    • Note: Prior guidance also allowed borrowers to exclude from their forgiveness calculations those FTE who turned down “good faith” offers to be rehired at the same hours and wages as prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • An Extended Repayment Period – The maturity of the PPP loans were extended from two years to five years. The interest rate remains at 1%. [Updated June 16, 2020 – Based on new guidance from the U.S. Treasury, only Borrowers who received funds on or after June 5, 2020 will receive the new maturity term of five years].
  • An Extension to the 6-Month Deferral Period – The six-month deferral in payment has been extended as well. Now the deferral period is either (1) until the date on which the amount of forgiveness determined under the CARES Act is remitted to the lender or (2) for borrowers who are not asking for forgiveness, ten months.
  • Changed Deadline to Restore Pre-COVID Levels of Labor and Wages – Borrowers can restore their workforce levels and wages to pre-COVID levels over a twenty-four-week period, another component for full forgiveness of the PPP loan. Prior law required borrowers to restore workforce levels and wages by June 30, 2020; it is now December 31, 2020.
  • Permitted Delay in Paying Payroll Taxes – Borrowers can use a PPP loan and delay paying their payroll taxes.

Laws and regulations remain a moving target for COVID-19-related relief.  As such, the laws and regulations discussed today may change soon.  Please consult with a legal professional regarding the updates to the Paycheck Protection Program if you have any legal concerns.

Nichole Baer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Stetson University, College of Law and practices in several areas, including BusinessCommercial Real EstateEstate Planning, and Estate Administration.

With the entire state in at least the Yellow Phase of reopening as of this Friday, bars, restaurants, breweries, distilleries, and others in the food and beverage services are gearing up to reopen for dine-in services in some capacity.

You must plan carefully before June 5th to maximize your outdoor seating, offer dine-in services safely and have guest experiences that are positive.

Yellow Phase

In the Yellow Phase, outdoor dining, subject to occupancy restrictions below, is permitted.  Guests must be seated at tables.  Bar seating or service is not permitted in any capacity.

Indoor areas must be closed to customers, except for through-traffic or restroom use.

Green Phase

In the Green Phase, indoor or outdoor seating and service is permitted, as is bar seating, subject to certain limitations.  For bar service, customers must be 6 feet apart or have physical barriers between them.

You can have up to 4 customers seated together at a bar if they have a common relationship (i.e., same family).

Occupancy Limits

Under both the Green and Yellow Phases, there are occupancy restrictions in place for how many seats or persons you may have inside or outside.  Right now, the guidance issued by the Governor’s Office provides 2 methods to calculate your maximum occupancy.

You must adhere to the smaller of these two calculations:

Method 1

50% of permitted fire occupancy or 12 people per 1,000 square feet if there is no fire code number available.  For many outdoor seating areas, there will not be a fire code available, which currently means that you are limited to 12 people per 1,000 square feet.

This requirement is VERY limiting, so plan accordingly.

Method 2

Arrange the restaurant or food service area so that customers seated at tables are not within 6 feet of one another in any direction.  Calculate the number of customers that can be accommodated using this layout.

There is a push to have this occupancy restriction relaxed to allow for you to use either of the above calculations. But right now, you are to use whichever method provides for fewer people.

The Governor’s guide to reopening for businesses in the restaurant industry includes additional detail and guidance for dine-in service.

Word is that the Department of Agriculture and the State Police – Bureau of Liquor Enforcement will be monitoring and inspecting to ensure compliance.  How they will do that is anyone’s guess, but you should presume they will inspect you and plan accordingly.

Liquor License Expansions: PLCB’s Streamlined Application

Earlier today, the PLCB announced a streamlined application process to expand your licensed premises, including additional outdoor seating areas.  To complete the application, you should log onto your PLCB+ account and select the option to add an “Emergency Temporary Extension of Premises.”

Please also remember to print the confirmation page once you submit the application.  That confirmation acts as your temporary approval.

The PLCB has said they will permit the use of parking lots, yards, and other non-traditional areas to be licensed.  Please beware that the areas you wish to add have to be “immediate, abutting and adjacent” to your current licensed areas.  This means you could not license a parking area or yard that is across the street or down the block from your facility.

This is a temporary approval that will expire at some point later in the year and the PLCB has waived any fees associated with this emergency application.

If you are going to be using municipal-owned space (public sidewalks, parks, streets) as your serving areas, you will also need to upload with your application a letter from the municipality indicating its approval.  That letter does not have to be specifically addressed to you but can be in the form of an ordinance or generic approval to all restaurants in the municipality.

Other Approvals You May Need

Municipal Approval

Please also beware that just because you get approval from the PLCB, that does NOT mean that you are automatically able to use that space.  For example, if you are considering using your parking lot for outdoor seating, you may need to speak with your local zoning officer or another municipal official to see how that impacts your parking requirements.

Typically, the required number of spaces is calculated based on the number of seats plus a certain number of employee spaces.  Consider how many spaces you are taking away and how that will impact your parking needs.

Lancaster City’s Temporary Sidewalk Café Permit Authorization

Some municipalities are being proactive about the need for expanded outdoor seating.  Lancaster City just announced that on Friday morning, they will approve an ordinance permitting all restaurants to temporarily use sidewalks, certain parking areas, and in some cases streets for outdoor dining.  Here’s a link to their Temporary Sidewalk Café Permit application.

Please understand, there are still some limitations, and the City may still require some type of barrier.  They will also make sure that there is still sufficient room for pedestrians to pass.

The City is also requiring applicants to sign an indemnification agreement holding the City harmless from the activities occurring in these areas.

Landlord Approval

You may also need to seek approval from your landlord to expand your seating areas.  You should review your lease and consider whether you need any additional approvals from your landlord.

Updating Your Insurance

Please also be sure to notify your insurance carrier of any additional outdoor seating areas.  Especially for those with Liquor Liability Coverage, your policy typically requires you to notify your carrier of the areas where you provide alcohol service.

It is good practice for everyone to notify their carriers.  At worst, they will tell you they don’t care.

If you need help navigating any of these issues, contact your attorney, and they can guide you through the process.

Aaron Zeamer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He practices in a variety of areas, including Business Law and Liquor License matters. Aaron works frequently with commercial real estate agents, brokers, restaurant and bar owners, breweries, distilleries, and wineries to facilitate the sale and transfer of PA liquor licenses.

Senior year is a rite of passage for high school students and is typically filled with special memories like prom, celebrations with friends, and of course, that walk across the stage signifying the culmination of 12 years of hard work.  For the 2020 graduates, though, this year has been anything but typical.

Front yards are filled with signs congratulating graduates. Social media is stuffed with pictures of graduates in their cap and gowns donning masks. And even graduations are being held virtually.  I’m sure we’ve all seen the advertisements selling special mementos to commemorate the unusual times we are currently in.  My personal favorite is the t-shirt crowning the graduating class of 2020 as Senior Skip Day Champions. That they are!

Russell, Krafft & Gruber is proud to celebrate five very special seniors in the firm’s family.

Mataya Chap, 2020 graduate

Mataya Chap is the daughter of Kathleen Krafft Miller, an associate attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber.  Mataya is graduating from Hempfield High School and will be moving to North Carolina, where she will attend Cape Fear for a year and then the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.  She plans to study Physical Therapy and hopes to focus on sports medicine.

Jimmy Hickey, 2020 graduate

Jimmy Hickey is the son of Nancy Hickey, a paralegal at Russell, Krafft & Gruber. Jimmy is graduating from Gettysburg College with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics and Spanish. He is currently relocating to Boulder, Colorado to secure employment.

Ben Marines, 2020 graduate

Ben Marines is the son of Aaron Marines, a partner of Russell, Krafft & Gruber.  Ben is graduating from Hempfield High School and was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist.  He will be attending Penn State University, where he will be majoring in Engineering.

Gabriella Peiffer, 2020 graduate

Gabriella Peiffer is the daughter of Doug Peiffer, a paralegal at Russell, Krafft & Gruber. Gabriella is graduating from Donegal High School. She will be attending Millersville University, where she will majoring in Respiratory Therapy.

Elizabeth Vanasse, 2020 graduate

Elizabeth Vanasse is the daughter of Julie Vanasse, an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber.  Elizabeth graduated summa cum laude from the College of William and Mary with a dual degree in English and French and Francophone Studies. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and will be attending the University of Richmond School of Law in the Fall.

A Graduation Story

We all have a special memory from our own graduations.  I’ll share a unique tidbit from mine.  As the President of the School Board for Ephrata Area School District, my dad and Russell, Krafft & Gruber attorney, Gary Krafft, would give a speech and hand out diplomas at graduation.

Each year, he embedded a few inspirational lines from Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin songs into his speech.  Not many knew he did this, but I did, and it made it all the more special to listen to the message he was relaying to me and my classmates.

The year of my graduation (and I won’t tell you what year that was!), his message was to not just be “another brick in the wall.” “There are two paths you can go by,” he continued, “but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you are on.”  Having gone back to law school in my thirties, I am proud to say that I have lived by these words!

We at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, would like to take this opportunity to send a special message to all the 2020 graduates. While you have been faced with obstacles and have been deprived of so many special memories during your senior year, you have persevered and handled these unusual times with grace and determination.   Best of luck to all the graduating seniors of 2020!  We wish you all success and happiness as you start this next phase of your life.

To follow in my dad’s footsteps, Led Zeppelin says it best,

though the course may change sometimes, rivers always lead to the sea

Despite the obstacles and curveballs you encounter along the way, keep moving forward and never give up!

Kathleen Krafft Miller is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University and regularly advises individuals on legal matters related to family law and domestic relations issues.

The Governor has revised his Order to allow the restaurant and retail food service industry to operate some dine-in services as part of the phased reopening of Pennsylvania. The new restaurant guidance specifies when and how the food industry can offer indoor and outdoor dining during COVID-19.

Here’s what you should know:

The New Rules

The Governor’s Office released specific restaurant guidance detailing what is permitted and the rules and processes you must implement to conduct dine-in services.  If you are considering offering dine-in services (starting on June 5 for those counties moving to yellow), please read this guidance carefully.

There are a LOT of requirements that must be in place to ensure you are in compliance with the state’s procedures for dine-in services.  Failure to adhere to this guidance can subject your health license and/or liquor license to suspension or fines.

Generally, the new direction from the Governor allows for limited outdoor dining during the Yellow Phase of reopening.

During the Green Phase, indoor dining is now permissible. However, there must be limited occupancy, social distancing, and/or physical barriers as detailed in the attached guidance.

A Rapid Approval Process Through the PLCB

For those with a liquor license interested in expanding or adding outdoor seating, the PLCB is rumored to be working on an expedited approval process to allow licensees to obtain rapid approval for expanded or new outdoor seating areas.

Remember, if you wish to serve and sell alcohol in an area, the PLCB must add that area to your licensed premises.  Typically, you would do this via an application to expand your licensed premises.  The new PLCB process may allow for approval within a matter of days (as opposed to weeks or months) for an expansion of your outdoor seating.

If/when the PLCB releases guidance for this expedited process, the attorneys at Russell Krafft & Gruber will be ready to assist with the process.

In case you missed it, know that you are allowed to sell mixed drinks to-go immediately.

Two Things to Do While You’re Waiting

In the meantime, if you are considering expanding or adding outdoor seating, there are some things you should consider.

1. Contact Your Landlord

You may need to contact your landlord to add some additional area(s) to your lease.  In some cases, landlords also require their approval to operate any kind of outdoor dining.  Review your lease and start that conversation now.

Even with the expedited PLCB procedure, they will require you to verify that your lease permits you to conduct or occupy any new outdoor space.

2. Contact Your Municipality

You should also consider whether you need to contact your local municipality to obtain approval for outdoor seating areas.  Some municipalities, particularly cities and boroughs, require their approval to conduct outdoor seating, particularly if it is on a sidewalk.

Starting that process now or having even that conversation with your local municipality will also help to expedite the process.

 

I expect many facilities will want to expand their outdoor seating areas to maximize their dine-in services while in the Yellow Phase of reopening. Who wouldn’t want to accommodate what could be high customer demand for outdoor seating?

However, given the social distancing and other limitations in the new restaurant guidance, your normal outdoor seating capacity is going to be greatly reduced.  Finding additional seating areas and creatively implementing them will be critical to ensuring a smooth transition to dine-in services and accommodating the comfort and peace of mind of your guests.

Aaron Zeamer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He practices in a variety of areas, including Business Law and Liquor License matters. Aaron works frequently with commercial real estate agents, brokers, restaurant and bar owners, breweries, distilleries, and wineries to facilitate the sale and transfer of PA liquor licenses.

For weeks, associations, municipalities, children’s day camps and public swimming pool organizations have been trying to decide if they could open summer recreation facilities such as pools, parks and playgrounds.  The state has only recently released directions on how to open businesses, like construction, in a socially distant way.

Going into the Memorial Day weekend, it was unclear whether any of these facilities could be open if a county were in the “yellow phase” of the Governor’s COVID-19 classification.

Pennsylvania Guidelines

Luckily, the Pennsylvania Department of Health published some guidance that clarifies:

[S]ummer programs that provide child care and enrichment and recreational activities for children and youth are permitted to operate without a waiver in counties in the yellow and green phases of the Governor’s phased-in reopening plan….

The Department of Health guidance also allows swimming pools to operate so long as they comply with CDC guidance.  The CDC Guidance applies to pools that are operated and managed by:

  • city or county governments
  • apartment complexes
  • membership clubs (for example, gyms)
  • schools
  • waterparks
  • homeowners’ associations

However, the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s guidance is subject to any state or local governmental restrictions too.  Pennsylvania does not permit gyms to be open.  This regulation means that a summer camp program for kids can operate and use the inside pool at the gym, even if the regular members might not be able to use it yet.  Apartment buildings, condominium associations and homeowners’ associations, municipal swimming pools and private clubs can also open their pools for the summer.

Federal Guidelines

The CDC Guidance for Public Aquatic Venues does not limit the number of people who can use a swimming pool.  It stresses social distancing, such as keeping lounge chairs and tables at least six feet apart.  The Guidance also emphasizes properly disinfecting any shared equipment.  It suggests keeping “clean” chairs separate from chairs that need to be cleaned.  And the Guidance recommends lots of reminders about washing hands and all of the other practices needed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The CDC Guidance will probably change the way that swimming pools and summer recreation programs operate.  Instead of wiping down tables at the end of the day, staff or patrons will need to wipe or disinfect them between uses.  But with these new directions, at least associations and summer programs can start planning to operate for the summer.

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including BusinessCommercial Real EstateLand Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.

We can now enjoy professionally-crafted cocktails from our favorite bars and restaurants in the safety and comfort of our own homes and backyards! Of course, this privilege does not come without restrictions…

After much anticipation in the hospitality industry (and from those of us who enjoy a good cocktail), Governor Wolf has signed into law Act 21 of 2020, which immediately authorizes licensees to sell mixed drinks to go in Pennsylvania for the remainder of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration.

Hotel and restaurant liquor licensees operating for food takeout may now also sell cocktails in sealed containers of no less than 4 ounces but no more than 64 ounces in a single transaction. Additionally, establishments selling mixed drinks for takeout are required to display a notice informing patrons of the requirements for transportation of these open containers.

For additional guidance, see my previous blog posts on this matter:

Mixed Drinks To Go?

Break Open the Bottle! PA Licensees Can Sell Mixed Drinks To Go

Aaron Zeamer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He practices in a variety of areas, including Business Law and Liquor License matters. Aaron works frequently with commercial real estate agents, brokers, restaurant and bar owners, breweries, distilleries, and wineries to facilitate the sale and transfer of PA liquor licenses.

The government is doling out more money than it ever has in response to an emergency, and it is doing it faster than ever before. From Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EDILs) to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to federal, state, and local grants through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) – the largest economic stimulus package in history – trillions of dollars are currently being disbursed to individuals and businesses who are facing the severe financial hardships created by COVID-19.

The emphasis so far has been to get the money into the hands of those who need it as quickly as possible. Given the amount of money that the government has been giving out and how fast they’ve been doing it, there is a lot of confusion as to who is entitled to receive the emergency assistance and how they should use it.

On an almost daily basis, various governmental entities are issuing new regulations and guidance. As an example, the Small Business Administration had to revise the PPP loan applications that many lending institutions were using several times due to ongoing revisions to the PPP distribution guidance. As quickly as we can understand the rules is as quickly as they are changing.

Now that the chaos of the early days of COVID-19 has started to die down, attention will soon switch to implementing COVID-19 compliance oversight of the rules and regulations pertaining to each type of emergency aid.

Because of this, there is the risk that well-intentioned, legitimate businesses receiving relief funds can run afoul of the rules and regulations regarding how they can use them. This possibility may open the door to investigations into how individual businesses received and used emergency aid even if they did their best to follow the law.  Even if no wrongdoing occurred, the financial and reputational expense of defending against this type of investigation could be extremely costly.

As a business owner or decision-maker, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from being investigated and to prepare if you are.

1. Keep Abreast of Laws, Rules, Regulations and Changes

Regarding COVID-19 aid, it seems that the government is acting first and asking questions later. This rapid action can make it very difficult to stay on top of what the government requires for each type of aid. Take the time to read articles, such as the ones posted on Lancaster Law Blog, to keep up to date on changes to the laws.

Also, review regulations and Frequently Asked Questions published by the government body issuing the funds. Consult with an attorney or your financial institution to get help staying up to date on the latest changes in the law. The attorneys at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP are reviewing changes to federal, state and local rules and regulations daily and are here to help you understand them.

2. Be Truthful and Accurate

Most, if not all, loan or assistance programs require an application. One of the best ways to avoid any questions about your eligibility is to be truthful from the time that you complete the application. Take the time to fully review any applications and do not answer any questions that you do not understand until you can get clarification.

In addition, maintain accurate and truthful disclosure of information throughout the entire process. Even if being honest means that you will not qualify for a particular type of assistance, it would cost a lot more than the lost aid if you are investigated and prosecuted for lying.

The best defense to allegations of dishonesty is the truth.

3. Create a Strong Audit Trail

It is vitally important that you keep track of all the money you receive and how you spend it as you go. The longer you wait to track your spending, the more likely it is that you will not capture all the information and that you will not spend the money properly.

In the unfortunate event that you are audited, you want to be prepared to show how you received the funds and how you spent every penny. Keep all the paperwork you receive and copies of any paperwork that you submit. Once you receive the funds, keep paper records of how you spent the money, who you gave it to, and when. Leave no question as to what happened to the money.

Although daunting, taking these steps will protect you from the attention of government oversight agencies and protect you if you are audited or investigated. If you have any questions on COVID-19 compliance oversight, how to apply for COVID-19 emergency assistance or how that assistance should be used, contact one of our attorneys.

Laura McGarry is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Penn State Law and provides legal counsel to individuals and businesses in Lancaster and surrounding communities.

I wrote last week about House Bill 327 that would permit restaurant and hotel licensees to sell mixed drinks to go.  The Senate has now passed that bill, which is awaiting signature by the Governor.  All indications are that he will sign the bill into law.

With its passage, restaurant and hotel licensees may immediately begin selling mixed drinks containing liquor to go. 

This bill marks the first time the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) has allowed liquor to be sold to go by anyone other than the PLCB itself and distilleries who make their own product.  While no one expects this concession to make up for all of the lost revenues that many bars, restaurants and hotels have experienced through the COVID-19 pandemic, it should offer some help by allowing licensees another avenue to generate revenue.

I have to admit: I am excited to see the unique and creative ideas that licensees will come up with to promote specialty drinks, cocktail kits, and other products, which now can actually include the alcohol!

Aaron Zeamer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He practices in a variety of areas, including Business Law and Liquor License matters. Aaron works frequently with commercial real estate agents, brokers, restaurant and bar owners, breweries, distilleries, and wineries to facilitate the sale and transfer of PA liquor licenses.