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Ice cold beer? Not here

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Hoosiers walking into a convenience store in Oklahoma are able to do something they cannot do in Indiana – reach into the cooler and get a cold beer.

An attempt to change the Indiana statute that prohibits gas stations and grocery stores from selling beer cold was put on ice in June when a federal court ruled the law that restricts beer sales is rational. Just like the foam rising in a freshly poured mug of beer, cries of frustration arose from consumers after the decision was handed down, asking why their home state has such seemingly outdated alcohol laws.

However, attorneys familiar with the beverage industry say Indiana is not quite the outlier some residents think it is. All states have laws regulating the distribution and sale of alcohol that are unique and what some might consider ridiculous.

Oklahoma is an example. Hoosiers who look closely at that cold bottle of beer will notice it is not a regular full-strength brew. Instead, convenience stores in the Sooner State can only sell so-called “near beer” – beer that contains 3.2 percent alcohol.

Some states have requirements that allow only residents to hold alcohol permits, and other states have dry counties where the sale of all alcohol is prohibited. Residents in certain states can buy spirits like bourbon and gin only in liquor stores while those in neighboring states cannot buy alcohol on Sunday. Eighteen states are control states, meaning the state government owns and operates the liquor stores.

The roots of these laws can be traced to the repeal of Prohibition. When the 21st Amendment was ratified, states were allowed to design their own regulatory schemes. Since then, the federal government has turned over the primary authority to states.

kogut-anthony-mug Kogut

“Usually there are historical reasons why the laws developed as they did,” said Anthony Kogut, attorney with the Michigan firm of Willingham & Coté P.C. States have “developed fairly complicated regulatory systems and tampering with a piece of it creates the danger of upsetting the balance and impacting the interests of people who structured their business in the highly regulated industry.”

Brewing a balance

The convenience stores acknowledge other states have nuanced alcohol laws, but they contend that only Indiana regulates beer by temperature. The group filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, et al. v. Alex Huskey, Chairman of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, 1:13-CV-000784, challenging the state’s alcohol laws on constitutional grounds.

They argued that Indiana’s law is irrational, in part, because it is not keeping alcohol from minors. The plaintiffs not only pointed out that children and teenagers already see the beer stocked in convenience and grocery stores, they also highlighted statistics that show liquor stores have a higher rate of selling alcohol to minors.

This argument addresses the balance states try to strike with their alcohol laws.

States make alcohol available – but not too available. No state has a policy of promoting overuse by making liquor, beer and wine widely accessible. Instead, states put up hurdles so alcohol is not available on every street corner which, the theory goes, reduces the impulse to buy.

“Because the laws have been so effective, people forget how much of a problem alcohol can be,” Kogut said. “It is still a problem but not like before Prohibition and before strong regulation.”

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Richard Young was not convinced by the plaintiffs’ argument. He described the statistics “problematic” and said the conclusion that convenience and grocery stores along with pharmacies would not sell to minors if cold beer was allowed was “pure speculation.”

maley-john-mugNew013013 Maley

Young also referred to Indiana balancing availability with oversaturation. In his ruling, he found the state “could have rationally believed” that limiting the sale of cold beer and placing more restrictions on liquor stores than other retailers furthers the goal of curbing underage consumption of alcohol.

Temperance shift

The convenience stores and their trade association are continuing their fight to overturn Indiana’s cold beer law. They have filed a complaint in Marion County, charging the regulation violates the state constitution, and they have appealed Young’s decision to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that legal and procedural errors occurred.

“The undisputed facts are that Indiana convenience stores are compliant retailers of beer and wine, and that there is no rational basis to allow liquor stores to hold a monopoly on cold beer, particularly when their compliance rate with Indiana alcohol laws is so poor,” said plaintiffs’ attorney John Maley, partner at Barnes and Thornburg LLP.

Patrick Tamm, president and CEO of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, reiterated that states have the right to craft their own alcohol laws. Alcohol, unlike peanut butter, eggs, bread or milk, has significant consequences when misused so its sale should be restricted.

Tamm charged convenience stores knew the laws when they decided to do business in Indiana but now they are turning to the courts rather than the Legislature for the ability to change their business model.

“They want to sell anything and everything any way they want to sell it,” Tamm said.

The fight in Indiana is an example of how the policy of temperance is instituted.

Max Hess, attorney at Taylor Feil Harper Lumsden & Hess in Atlanta, Ga., said temperance has shifted over the years to the free enterprise system, and vested interests have been solicited to limit the availability of alcohol. By reining in the number of outlets where alcohol is available and by issuing permits, states have cultivated vested interests to implement public policy.

tamm-patrick-mug Tamm

The convenience stores could have a difficult time convincing the courts to limit the latitude that has been given to Indiana to regulate alcohol as it sees fit. Two federal appellate courts have found that other states have legitimate interests in restricting alcohol in the unique ways that they do.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s ruling in Maxwell’s Pic-Pac, Inc., et al. v. Tony Dehner, et al., ruling that Kentucky’s law which lets pharmacies – but not grocery stores – stock liquor is a rational way to reduce access to high-alcohol products.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Missouri’s wholesaler residency requirement in Southern Wine and Spirits of America, Inc., et al. v. Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, et al. The wholesaler, Southern Wine and Spirits, challenged the state’s law that allows only “resident corporations” (businesses that have been incorporated under Missouri laws and have officers and directors who legally reside in the Show Me State) to sell alcohol to retailers.

States are fiercely protective of their own alcohol laws, Kogut said, and they do not let the laws of other states affect how they regulate the intoxicants.

And with the courts affirming the patchwork of laws, Hoosiers may have to be satisfied with the warm beer they get at the convenience store.•

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  1. Actually, and most strikingly, the ruling failed to address the central issue to the whole case: Namely, Black Knight/LPS, who was NEVER a party to the State court litigation, and who is under a 2013 consent judgment in Indiana (where it has stipulated to the forgery of loan documents, the ones specifically at issue in my case)never disclosed itself in State court or remediated the forged loan documents as was REQUIRED of them by the CJ. In essence, what the court is willfully ignoring, is that it is setting a precedent that the supplier of a defective product, one whom is under a consent judgment stipulating to such, and under obligation to remediate said defective product, can: 1.) Ignore the CJ 2.) Allow counsel to commit fraud on the state court 3.) Then try to hide behind Rooker Feldman doctrine as a bar to being held culpable in federal court. The problem here is the court is in direct conflict with its own ruling(s) in Johnson v. Pushpin Holdings & Iqbal- 780 F.3d 728, at 730 “What Johnson adds - what the defendants in this suit have failed to appreciate—is that federal courts retain jurisdiction to award damages for fraud that imposes extrajudicial injury. The Supreme Court drew that very line in Exxon Mobil ... Iqbal alleges that the defendants conducted a racketeering enterprise that predates the state court’s judgments ...but Exxon Mobil shows that the Rooker Feldman doctrine asks what injury the plaintiff asks the federal court to redress, not whether the injury is “intertwined” with something else …Because Iqbal seeks damages for activity that (he alleges) predates the state litigation and caused injury independently of it, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not block this suit. It must be reinstated.” So, as I already noted to others, I now have the chance to bring my case to SCOTUS; the ruling by Wood & Posner is flawed on numerous levels,BUT most troubling is the fact that the authors KNOW it's a flawed ruling and choose to ignore the flaws for one simple reason: The courts have decided to agree with former AG Eric Holder that national banks "Are too big to fail" and must win at any cost-even that of due process, case precedent, & the truth....Let's see if SCOTUS wants a bite at the apple.

  2. I am in NJ & just found out that there is a judgment against me in an action by Driver's Solutions LLC in IN. I was never served with any Court pleadings, etc. and the only thing that I can find out is that they were using an old Staten Island NY address for me. I have been in NJ for over 20 years and cannot get any response from Drivers Solutions in IN. They have a different lawyer now. I need to get this vacated or stopped - it is now almost double & at 18%. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

  3. I am in NJ & just found out that there is a judgment against me in an action by Driver's Solutions LLC in IN. I was never served with any Court pleadings, etc. and the only thing that I can find out is that they were using an old Staten Island NY address for me. I have been in NJ for over 20 years and cannot get any response from Drivers Solutions in IN. They have a different lawyer now. I need to get this vacated or stopped - it is now almost double & at 18%. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

  4. Please I need help with my class action lawsuits, im currently in pro-se and im having hard time findiNG A LAWYER TO ASSIST ME

  5. Access to the court (judiciary branch of government) is the REAL problem, NOT necessarily lack of access to an attorney. Unfortunately, I've lived in a legal and financial hell for the past six years due to a divorce (where I was, supposedly, represented by an attorney) in which I was defrauded of settlement and the other party (and helpers) enriched through the fraud. When I attempted to introduce evidence and testify (pro se) in a foreclosure/eviction, I was silenced (apparently on procedural grounds, as research I've done since indicates). I was thrown out of a residence which was to be sold, by a judge who refused to allow me to speak in (the supposedly "informal") small claims court where the eviction proceeding (by ex-brother-in-law) was held. Six years and I can't even get back on solid or stable ground ... having bank account seized twice, unlawfully ... and now, for the past year, being dragged into court - again, contrary to law and appellate decisions - by former attorney, who is trying to force payment from exempt funds. Friday will mark fifth appearance. Hopefully, I'll be allowed to speak. The situation I find myself in shouldn't even be possible, much less dragging out with no end in sight, for years. I've done nothing wrong, but am watching a lot of wrong being accomplished under court jurisdiction; only because I was married to someone who wanted and was granted a divorce (but was not willing to assume the responsibilities that come with granting the divorce). In fact, the recalcitrant party was enriched by well over $100k, although it was necessarily split with other actors. Pro bono help? It's a nice dream ... but that's all it is, for too many. Meanwhile, injustice marches on.

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