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Indiana’s cold beer law heading to 7th Circuit

December 2, 2014

Convenience stores will soon have the chance to convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that Indiana’s restrictions on cold beer sales violate the U.S. Constitution.

Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association along with Thornton’s Inc., Ricker Oil Co. and Freedom Oil Inc. have been turning to the courts, instead of the Legislature, to try to upend the state’s limitations on chilling and selling beer.

The retailers filed their initial complaint in May 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. After a two-day hearing, the District Court granted the state’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds the state has an interest in controlling alcohol sales.

In July, the retailers appealed to the 7th Circuit, reiterating their argument that Indiana’s restrictions deny them the equal protection that is guaranteed by the Constitution.

The 7th Circuit has scheduled oral arguments in the case for 9:30 a.m. (CST) Jan. 7 in Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, et al. v. David Johnson, in his official capacity as Interim Chairman of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, 14-2559. The court is allowing each side to have no more than 15 minutes to present their arguments.

In its reply brief filed Nov. 21, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office argued the state’s permitting system does not violate the plaintiffs’ equal protection claim under the 14th Amendment.

First, the attorney general maintains the state has the right to regulate beer, liquor and wine as it wants.

“…under the Twenty-first Amendment the states have great discretion in determining how, when and by whom retail alcohol sales will occur within their borders,” Indiana asserted. “The Plaintiffs have not shown that the determination of the Indiana Legislature to permit cold beer sales by certain highly regulated permit holders to limit the amount and timing of cold beer sales in Indiana implicates their constitutional rights in any way.”

In addition, the state contends its desire to reduce the consumption of alcohol by minors is a rational basis for prohibiting convenience stores from selling cold beer.

“Contrary to the Plaintiffs’ argument, (the state’s beer permit) scheme is rational because it clearly serves to greatly limit the sales of cold beer and places time and manner restrictions on its sale,” the state argued. “The Indiana Legislature has clearly determined that it wants to reduce sales of cold beer, limit when cold beer may be sold and only permit such sales under strict sales requirements. All of these requirements rationally limit the immediate consumption of take-out beer after a sale and limit opportunities for juveniles to attempt to obtain cold beer.”

Finally, the state took a swipe at the convenience store owners who characterize package liquor stores as seedy places where teens can easily buy beer.

“Further, how quickly beer can be chilled is nothing more than a red herring as the Legislature may legitimately conclude that less cold beer will be sold if fewer outlets for such sales exist, and the Plaintiffs’ contention that an increase in the number of locations where cold beer is sold will not make enforcement of the law more challenging, contrary to the finding of the district judge, is nothing more than the Plaintiffs’ self-serving and unreasonable opinion, not the basis for a reasonable inference.”

 

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