Convenience stores remount challenge to cold-beer laws

Convenience stores in Indiana are appealing a decision from a federal judge in June that continued to prohibit them from selling cold beer.

Members of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association said Tuesday that they and other plaintiffs in the original case had filed an appeal of U.S. District Judge Richard J. Young’s decision that preserved current laws restricting cold-beer sales to liquor stores.

“Our member and the public understand Indiana’s alcohol laws lack common sense, and we are asking the state and federal courts to put an end to this,” said IPCA Executive Director Scot Imus. “It is clear that the monopoly liquor stores have limits consumer choice and hurts the growth of our state economy.”

In addition to the federal appeal, IPCA executives said they had filed a lawsuit in Marion County Superior Court claiming that Indiana’s alcohol law regarding cold beer sales violates the Indiana Constitution.

The group and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit last year against the state, arguing that the restrictions on cold beer sales were discriminatory and didn’t allow for a fair marketplace. Currently, convenience stores can sell warm beer and cold wine.

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.”

Young 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."

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.

Patrick Tamm, CEO of IABR, said Tuesday that the group was not surprised by the appeal.

"The plaintiffs have spent a considerable sum of money to bring this challenge and pursue litigation against the state of Indiana," Tamm said. "No doubt they will spend a considerably larger sum to pursue any appeals after a definitive ruling by Judge Young. These plaintiffs are large corporate interests with deep pockets and have much to gain in overturning Indiana law."

On Tuesday, IPCA officials argued that convenience stores have a better record of preventing the sale of alcohol to minors. In rebuttal, Tamm referred to Young's contention in his ruling that comparing compliance statistics between package liquor stores and grocery/convenience stores was "problematic," and that reliance on the the statistics by the plaintiffs was "misplaced."

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