LINCOLN, NE - Arguing that beer retailers would be forced to discriminate against American Indians if a $500 million lawsuit filed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe is successful, lawyers for beer companies filed motions last week seeking dismissal of the suit, the Great Falls Tribune reports.
The argument was one of several filed last week as the tribe has filed suit against beer makers, distributors, and four beer stores in the reservation border town of Whiteclay.
The suit seeks damages for health care and law enforcement costs, developmental problems in children, and other alcohol-related problems on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The tribe is also seeking a restriction of alcohol sales in Whiteclay to those living on the reservation.
Lawyers said the restriction would force Whiteclay€™s beer stores to discriminate against American Indians from the tribe.
"The absurdity of this request cannot be understated," said Jerald Rauterkus, an attorney for State Line Liquor in Whiteclay. The tribe "is seeking an order from this court that would actually command retail defendants to refuse the sale of their otherwise publicly available goods to members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation based solely on their race and ethnicity."
Whiteclay, with a population of 11 people, sold roughly 4.3 million, 12-ounce cans of beer last year. Pine Ridge reservation, with its 40,000 residents, sits two miles north of the village and bans alcohol. Tribal leaders blame Whiteclay businesses for chronic alcohol abuse and bootlegging on its reservation. Additionally, one in four children born on the reservation suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Robert Keith, an attorney for the Arrowhead Inn store in Whiteclay, said the lawsuit's claims are "speculative" and impossible to prove.
"How can the plaintiff's alleged injuries be traced specifically to Arrowhead Inn's actions, as opposed to other alcoholic beverage retailers around the Midwest, United States, or members of plaintiff's tribe who potentially produce alcoholic beverages in the privacy of their home?" Keith wrote in court papers.
Randall Goyette, an attorney for the Jumping Eagle Inn store in Whiteclay, said a ruling in the tribe's favor would create a "paradigm shift" in the way alcohol is sold nationwide.
"Manufacturers would be forced to analyze the sales data of each and every one of its distributors and retailers to ensure that it was not selling too much of a product such that it was exposing itself to possible liability for public nuisance," he said.