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Cold beer lawsuit fails in federal court

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Hoosiers will still have to go to their local liquor store to buy a cold one.

A challenge to state law prohibiting convenience, grocery and drug stores from selling cold beer failed Monday when the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denied the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and granted the state’s motion for summary judgment.

Convenience stores filed a lawsuit in 2013, arguing Indiana’s restrictions on who could sell beer cold violated their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. In Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association et al. v. Alex Huskey, Chairman of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, 1:13-CV-000784, the retailers charged that regulating the sale of beer based on temperature is unfair and does not prevent minors from illegally purchasing alcoholic beverages.

However, Chief Judge Richard Young rejected the IPCA’s arguments.

He dismissed the plaintiff’s contention that the state statute violated the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution because it was vague and not clear as to what conduct was being prohibited. Young pointed to the low number of citations from the Indiana State Excise Police as demonstrating the stores understand they cannot place beer in their coolers.

In disallowing the equal protection claims, Young found the state has a legitimate interest in limiting the sale of alcohol.

 “Restricting the sale of cold beer to certain types of businesses and restricting the sale of cold beer only to businesses that have more restrictions placed on them is a classic example of legislative line-drawing,” Young wrote in his June 16 order. “Indiana’s legislative classifications, which serve to limit the outlets for immediately consumable cold beer, is rationally related to the legitimate goals of Indiana’s alcoholic beverage laws; opening this market to others without restriction is not.”

Both sides presented their case to the judge Feb. 20 and 21.

After the ruling, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said the proper venue for settling this issue was the Statehouse.

“The statute we successfully defended reflects the current decision of the people’s elected representatives in the Legislature,” Zoeller said. “The subject has been debated for many years but the appropriate forum for those who disagree with the state law to advocate for policy changes is in the state Legislature not the courts.”

The Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association vowed to continue pushing against the state’s law but did not specify whether it would appeal Young’s order or mount another effort to get the Legislature to change the law.  

“Our members and Hoosiers are disappointed that the court did not rule to end an irrational, discriminatory and outdated law,” said Scot Imus, IPCA executive director. “There is wide support to modernize Indiana’s alcohol laws, and we will continue to fight for fairness in the marketplace.”



 


 

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