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Judges uphold IATC’s issuance of alcohol dealer permits

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed that an association comprised of retail package liquor stores isn’t entitled to injunctive relief preventing the state’s Alcohol and Tobacco Commission from issuing permits to stores in the same manner it has for the last 30 years.

In Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, Inc. v. Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, et al., No.49A02-1002-PL-125, the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers sued the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, seeking to stop what it described as the unlawful practice of issuing excessive permits to dealers in violation of the quota system established by Title 7.1. The IABR claimed the issuance of beer dealer’s permits to holders of liquor dealer’s permits without counting the beer dealer’s permits against the quota limits established in Indiana Code Section 7.1-3-22-4 for those categories of permits violates Indiana law.

The trial court denied IABR’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. It found there is no clear statutory guidance on the issue. The commission has followed its interpretation that the dealer statutes allow for permits to be issued which bundle together, in different formulations, the rights of different entities to sell different combinations of alcoholic beverages. The IATC has also counted those permits against different quotas in the same manner for many years. The court also found IABR won’t suffer irreparable harm and didn’t have a likelihood of success in a trial on the merits.

The Court of Appeals judges examined the various chapters and sections under Title 7.1 and found Article 3 to be ambiguous regarding the number of permits the commission may issue to dealers. They found reasonable the IATC’s interpretations of Article 3 allowing for three separate quotas to be applied to the various types of holders of dealer’s permits: a quota for those holding a package liquor store dealer’s permit, under which the holder may sell liquor and beer, which is counted only against the quota for package liquor store dealer’s permits; a quota for drug stores holding a liquor dealer’s permit, which is counted only against the quota for general liquor dealer’s permits under I. C. Section 7.1-3-22-4(b), even if they also hold a beer dealer’s permit issued pursuant to I. C. Section 7.1-3-10-6; and a quota for entities holding only a beer dealer’s permit issued pursuant to I. C. Section 7.1-3-22-4(a).  

IABR failed to show it had at least a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits at trial, wrote Judge Carr Darden. The IABR also failed to show that its members are likely to suffer irreparable harm if the injunction isn’t issued.

“Here, the IABR argues that without an injunction, its members’ ‘rights to fairly compete with other holders of lawfully obtained beer dealer’s permits will be harmed and diluted,’” he wrote. “We find no merit in this argument as we have found that the Commission’s interpretation of Section 4 to be reasonable, and therefore its issuance of permits, is lawful. Also, the IABR has presented no evidence that any of its members have been denied permits due to the Commission’s interpretation.”

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