Legal Lens: When can a city close a business?

Legal Lens

The Brown & Crouppen Legal Lens takes a closer look at everyday legal issues and gives you a better understanding of topics that may affect you.

ST. LOUIS – There has been lots of news about violence and other issues around downtown businesses lately. But can a city shut down a business if someone gets hurt there due to negligence? What if the business is found to be a nuisance?

“The Constitution does not guarantee the unrestrictive right to conduct business,” Andrea McNairy, managing attorney at Brown & Crouppen, said. “Certain businesses can be regulated, or businesses can be conditioned on meeting certain expectations or conditions—for example, gambling or liquor stores—so every city, not just St. Louis, has an ordinance that says if a business is a nuisance to safety and welfare of residents, that there can be legal implications to that.”

So what qualifies a business as a nuisance?

“In the City of St. Louis, it can include illegal sale of alcohol or something that injures or endangers city’s residents,” McNairy said.

What if there are complaints coming in? Where would things go from there?

“Just like an individual has a right to due process, if there are nuisance complaints the business can have a hearing and have evidence on its behalf and have representation,” McNairy said. “But if a nuisance is found, the city has several things at its disposal, including having a business hire additional security, to putting security measures in place, all the way up to shutting down a business for up to a year.”

If someone gets hurt at a business, McNairy offers the following advice.

“Generally speaking, a business doesn’t have a duty to guard its patrons against the criminal actions of third parties, but there is an exception if a business has a reason to know that crimes are being committed or likely to be committed on its premises,” she said. “And it has time to prevent those by hiring security, removing wrongdoers, or training its employees or installing cameras. Any business can be liable if someone is injured on its property due to criminal acts of a third party.”

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