Judge finds ‘rational’ reasons for restricting cold-beer sales

A federal judge in Indianapolis has rejected a challenge to the state's law that prohibits convenience stores and groceries from selling cold beer.

Judge Richard L. Young issued a ruling Monday saying the state has legitimately drawn a line by only allowing liquor stores to sell cold beer.

The Indiana Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, or ICPA, said it plans to continue trying to overturn the law. The group filed its lawsuit last year, arguing the restrictions on cold beer sales are discriminatory and don't allow for a fair marketplace.

Other plaintiffs included Thornton’s, Ricker Oil Company, Freedom Oil and Steven E. Noe.

The Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers supports the current law, maintaining that grocery and convenience stores should be treated differently because they don't face age restrictions on who can enter stores and they aren't required to hire clerks with state liquor licenses.

IPCA officials contended the state law violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, and that Indiana regulations have evolved “in an irrational and discriminatory manner that favors one class of retail over another.”

The judge disagreed with that conclusion, and said restricting the sale of cold beer to package stores was rational and not unconstitutionally vague.

In the 34-page ruling, Young wrote: “The state has a legitimate interest in limiting the sale of alcohol and, more to the point, a legitimate interest in curbing the sale of immediately consumable beer to minors.”

Expanding the sale of cold beer beyond liquor stores, taverns and restaurants would make Indiana's alcoholic beverage laws "tougher to enforce" by creating many more outlets at which minors could purchase cold beer, Young wrote.

"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," Young wrote. "Opening this market to others without restriction is not."

IPCA officials said in a statement that they to keep trying to loosen the restrictions.

Executive Director Scot Imus said Tuesday the association hasn't decided whether to file an appeal, but that isn't the only option.

"And of course, there is always the Legislature," Imus said.

The group filed the lawsuit last year, arguing that the restrictions on cold beer sales are discriminatory and don't allow for a fair marketplace. It also noted that while convenience stores can't sell cold beer, they can sell cold wine that sometimes contains twice the alcohol content.

"This causes confusion among customers," the association said.

Young, however, said that liquor stores, taverns and restaurants are subject to much stricter regulations than convenience stores and groceries. And although the convenience store association claimed that liquor stores were more likely than convenience stores to violate state alcohol laws, Young said the state could rationally believe that "limiting the sale of immediately consumable cold beer to package liquor stores furthers its legitimate goal of curbing underage restriction of alcohol."

He noted that there were far fewer liquor stores than convenience stores or groceries in Indiana, "which naturally results in fewer outlets in the state to purchase cold beer."

The ICPA said about 1,200 of its 1,500 member stores were prepared to sell cold beer immediately if they had won the case.


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