Monarch Beverage again fails in liquor distribution suit

Keywords Appeal / Law / Lawsuits / Legal Issues
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Monarch Beverage Co.’s arguments that Indiana's alcohol wholesale laws are discriminatory fell flat at the Indiana Court of Appeals, marking the second time this week that attempts to overturn state statutes regarding booze came up empty.

In an opinion issued Thursday, just 17 days from the Dec. 1 oral arguments, the Court of Appeals found Monarch did not show that it was treated differently from any similarly situated class. The unanimous three-judge panel affirmed summary judgment in favor of the state in the case.
Just two days earlier, in a similar case, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Indiana’s law prohibiting convenience stores and gas stations from selling beer cold does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Indianapolis-based Monarch originally filed suit against officials of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission in federal court in October 2013, arguing the company should be granted the right to also supply liquor to bars, restaurants and retail outlets.

State law prohibits alcohol wholesalers from supplying both beer and liquor, forcing them to choose between the two. Monarch's suit argued Indiana’s restrictive alcohol laws violate parts of the U.S. Constitution, specifically the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker ruled against Monarch's claim. Indiana's codes regarding alcohol distribution might not appear rational to all parties, Barker wrote in her ruling, but that doesn't mean they violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Barker said Monarch failed to prove it was being treated differently than any other beer distributor in the state, a requirement for an equal protection challenge.

In its appeal, Monarch made the argument that Indiana’s prohibitions violate the Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Indiana Constitution.

The appeals court upheld Barker's decision and provided the company with a lesson on constitutional law.    

“There can be no Equal Privileges and Immunities claim where all classes of person are treated equally,” Judge James Kirsch wrote for the court in a 14-page opinion.

Monarch argued state statutes single out beer wholesalers for disparate treatment that was not justified by the difference between beer and liquor wholesalers.  

However, the Court of Appeals pointed out that Monarch could not identify a class that was receiving preferential treatment under Indiana’s Alcoholic Beverages Law’s Prohibited Interest Provisions. The distributor argued the provisions deny beer wholesalers the privilege of also being liquor wholesalers while affording that opportunity to everyone else.

Again, the Court of Appeals noted Monarch does not explain who “everyone else” is, nor does it identify any class that is treated differently.

“Pursuant to the Prohibited Interest Provisions, all persons who seek to obtain a wholesaler’s permit from the (Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission) are treated equally and have an equal opportunity to choose to become either a beer wholesaler or a liquor wholesaler, and after a choice has been made, beer and liquor wholesalers are equally prohibited from acquiring a permit to distribute any other alcohol except for wine,” Kirsch wrote.

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