While the Sioux tribe in North Dakota is fighting the use of “Fighting Sioux,” the Suing Sioux of South Dakota are in federal court with a rather novel (and in my view thoroughly frivolous) lawsuit of their own. The Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota is suing the largest beer makers for contributing to the corruption and abuse of members of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation by supplying alcohol through local stores. The tribe is demanding $500 million in damages for the cost of health care, social services and child rehabilitation.
The lawsuit in Nebraska references four beer stores in Whiteclay, a Nebraska town near the reservation’s border. The town only has about a dozen residents but reportedly sold nearly 5 million cans of beer in 2010. Either the residents have the world’s biggest beer guts or they are making huge profits by selling alcohol to the local indians. The town lies less than 250 feet from the reservation border.
However, beer sales are perfectly legal and these indian customers are adults who have a right to purchase alcoholic beverages — and the citizens of Whiteclay have a right to sell the beer so long as they have the required permits. Notably, as this picture represents, taverns have existed in Whiteclay (or Pine Ridge) for many decades. (This is from the 1940s)
Tom White, the tribe’s Omaha-based attorney, “[y]ou cannot sell 4.9 million 12-ounce cans of beer and wash your hands like Pontius Pilate, and say we’ve got nothing to do with it being smuggled.” Actually, you can. It is called retail sales. The question is not whether the lawsuit will succeed but whether it could generate sanctions. The legislature has thus far declined to impose limitations on beer sales around the reservation. Absent such measures (which could be challenged in court), there is a conspicuous absence of legal authority to support such a claim. The tribe is offering policy arguments that are quite compelling but they are inviting a court to function as a super legislature in the imposition of such liability.
It is certainly true that state law prohibits drinking outside the stores and the nearest town that allows alcohol is over 20 miles south (alcohol sales are banned on the reservation). However, the tribe would be best served by taking up the matter with tribe members rather than suggesting that stores should not be able to sell beer to indians.
None of this questions the good-faith goals of the tribe, only its means. One in four children on the reservation reportedly suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and the average life expectancy is estimated between 45 and 52 years.
The state is considering a ban or limitation on beer sales in Whiteclay — though I would question the constitutionality of such a law in designating certain areas to be “alcohol impact zones.”
The complaint is long on narrative and short on legal authority or claims. This is the sole claim:
PERSONS ACTING IN CONCERT
43. Plaintiff restates each and every previous allegation in support of this Cause of Action as if fully set forth herein.
44. As part of a common enterprise, the Defendants and each of them, have knowingly acted in concert to manufacture, distribute and sell beer through the Whiteclay retail outlets in amounts that cannot be legally sold, consumed or possessed under the laws of the State of Nebraska and the OST.
45. The Defendants and each of them, know or should know that the Retail Defendants’ conduct in the sale of the vast amount beer which is smuggled into and resold in the Reservation is in breach of their duties under the law of the State of Nebraska and the OST.
46. The Defendants and each of them give substantial assistance and encouragement to the Retail Defendants by supplying and transporting volumes of beer far in excess of an amount that could be sold in compliance with the laws of the State of Nebraska and the OST. The Defendants and each of them, also give further substantial assistance and encouragement to the Retail Defendants through advertisements, marketing materials, and other business accommodations to promote the consumption of beer in the PRIR.
47. The Defendants and each of them have the duty to make reasonable efforts to ensure their products are distributed and sold in obedience to the laws of the State of Nebraska and the OST. The Defendants and each of them have breached that duty by cooperating and engaging in a common enterprise which is focused on assisting and participating in the illegal sale of alcohol.
48. The Defendants and each of them have thereby caused the OST to suffer massive
damages in an amount yet to be determined.
The claim of working in concert reflects the common purpose of selling a legal product.
Here is the complaint: Sioux Suit
Among the defendants are Jason J. Schwarting who runs the Arrowhead Inn in Whiteclay; Stuart J. Kozal who runs the Jumping Eagle Inn and Clay M. Brehmer and Daniel J. Brehmer who run the State Line Liquor in Whiteclay.
Here are the corporate defendants:
Anheuser-Busch InBev Worldwide, Inc.
SAB Miller d/b/a Miller Brewing Company
Molson Coors Brewing Company
Miller Coors, LLC
Pabst Brewing Company
Pivo, Inc. d/b/a High Plains Budweiser
Dietrich Distributing Co., Inc.
Arrowhead Distributing, Inc.
Coors Distributing of West Nebraska d/b/a Coors of West Nebraska
Jason Schwarting d/b/a Arrowhead Inn, Inc.
Sanford Holdings, LLC d/b/a D&S Pioneer Service
Stuart Kozal d/b/a/ Jumping Eagle Inn
Clay Brehmer and Daniel Brehmer d/b/a State Line Liquor
Source: SF Gate