The Herald Bulletin

May 14, 2013

Convenience stores sue for right to sell cold beer

Federal lawsuit alleges equal protection violation

By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. —  Indiana gas stations and convenience store owners want the federal courts to overturn a state law that bans them from selling cold beer.

Tuesday, after years of battling with the General Assembly, the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (IPCA) filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Indiana’s law is “an irrational and discriminatory regulatory scheme,” which violates equal protection clauses of the state and federal constitutions, according to the complaint.

Under current law, convenience, grocery and pharmacy stores are only allowed to sell beer warm, while competing package stores are allowed to sell beer cold. Indiana is the only state in the country that regulates beer sales based on temperature, the association said.

“This lawsuit is about fairness, convenience and promoting competition for the sale of cold beer in a rational and responsible way so that my members can serve their customers,” said IPCA Executive Director Scot Imus.

The lawsuit was filed against the state and the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission.

Plaintiffs include Anderson-based Ricker Oil Co. Inc.; Freedom Oil, LLC of Warsaw; Louisville-based Thortons,

A representative for Ricker could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

“We feel that Indiana law does an excellent job of handling this controlled substance,” said Keg ‘n Bottle owner Joel Hackleman. “Alcohol should not be as convenient as candy bars and fountain pop.”

He noted that package stores have a limited commodity list and employees must be 21, and licensed.

“My concern is not only am I an Anderson business person, I’m also a parent of three children,” Hackleman said. “They are going to shop at convenience stores and I don’t think kids should be exposed to cold beer next to fruit juices, pop and those things.”

Oddly, while convenience stores can only sell beer warm, that prohibition doesn’t apply to wine. Convenience stores can sell these products cold, and they often contain higher levels of alcohol than beer, Imus said.

“There is no logic with the current law that gives one class of retailer an exclusive right to sell cold beer,” he added.

John Livengood, president of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, said the federal lawsuit is simply the latest attempt to unravel public policy the General Assembly has repeatedly said it wants.

Moreover, he said the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition in 1933, intentionally gave states the authority to regulate alcohol.

“I’m fairly confident that the court will defend Indiana’s right to make those decisions,” he said. “I don’t think their attack on the state’s policy is likely to be successful.”  

Find Stu Hirsch on Facebook and @StuHirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.