The Suing Sioux: Tribe Sues Top Beer Makers For Contributing To Alcoholism Of Tribe Members

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:

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

100 thoughts on “The Suing Sioux: Tribe Sues Top Beer Makers For Contributing To Alcoholism Of Tribe Members”

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  3. stop buying GMO foods from the supermarkets… stop taking vaccines and flu shots…. the American and European Government are SICK EVIL WAR CRIMINALS who inject toxic chemicals and poisons into our food supply

  4. Carol Levy, their life began at incorporation — oh no, wait a minute, it began at writing the papers up for incorp– oh no, actually, it began at–

    Oooh. I’m not sure when a corporation’s right to life begins.

  5. Corporations rights that supercede any other law. Why not? They have been given free reign with taxes and regulations for years. CitizensUnited makes them persons, and persons in the top 1% more then not (although given GBK’s info, one wonders how long, ifever, they have been a ‘person; or corporation.) Of course they can ride roughshod over anyone, anything, and any reservation they want.

  6. Blouise,

    “Sounds like those truck drivers were “coached” by the mysterious person(s) who gave them their driving directions.”

    I was about to post a response along the lines of, “yeah, it does . . . ” when I thought I’d check out Totran Transportation as it seemed inconceivable to me that a Canadian company — according to the news I read — that specializes in heavy equipment transport would not pay the fees to use South Dakota roads in trucking oversize loads into Canada and instead decide to truck the equipment over the narrow roads through the Pine Ridge Reservation. This led to some interesting observations.

    As reported in the Aberdeen News, <> “Debra White Plume said the trucks driving on the Pine Ridge Reservation Monday had the name ‘Totran Transportation Services’ on the sides, with ‘Calgary and Houston’ printed below that.” Debra White Plume was one of the people arrested and released three hours later for blocking the trucks.

    So I googled “Totran Transportation” and the first result back was Totran Transportation at the Canadian top level domain .ca with a url of www__totran__ca. (Underscores used so as not to exceed the two link per post limit of this blog). This is of course what I expected.

    The google result listed their address as: 5280 72 Avenue Southeast Calgary, AB T2C 4G6, Canada, with a phone number of (403) 723-0025, and under this were six sitelinks (google’s indexing of relevant pages available at Totran’s site) named: Equipment , Our Team, Employment Opportunities, Oil and Gas, About, and Projects. It all seemed quite normal. There was even the ubiquitous, “more results from Totran” link.

    However, when I clicked on the google link for the home page I got a fairly sparse page stating:

    This domain has just been registered for one of our customers!
    Domain registration and webhosting at best prices.

    And when I clicked on any of the six sitelinks under the homepage link I received a “404-Not Found” error.

    It is very unusual for the first result offered by google to have the homepage contain just two sentences and any offered sitelinks be dead. As a matter of experience it takes a well crafted website, and google crawl time over many months, to even convince google’s search algorithm to possibly produce sitelinks under the main link.

    So, I went to google’s cache to see what it had for Totran’s . ca homepage. Google’s cache offered up a page last captured on Mar 3, 2012 04:57:26 GMT and it is extremely sparse. Check it out at:

    This naturally led to a whois query of Totran . ca and there is no contact information for Totran . ca which violates the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names And Numbers (ICANN) policies for domain registries.

    There is a Totran Transportation out of Houston (which Debra White Plume, as mentioned above, noted as being printed on the side of the trucks along with the Calgary designation, quoted here again for convenience: ” . . . had the name ‘Totran Transportation Services’ on the sides, with ‘Calgary and Houston’ printed below that.”)

    Google only produces sitelinks under main links for websites that have been around awhile and have tight organization between the site’s content and when content agrees with a sitemap that can be submitted to google’s search engine. Even after this, it takes months for the sitelinks to be generated, if ever, and for a website with sitelinks to be offered as the first result by google it has to have many cross links and possibly high traffic.

    Yet, Totran . ca has two sentences on their homepage and all the subsequent sitelinks generate 404 errors. Additionally, the whois data for Totran . ca was initially registered in 2006 yet their homepage link via google states that the page has just been registered! Given all this, they are the first result given by google when searching for “Totran Transportation”?

    Something’s really wrong here.

  7. gbk,

    “corporate rights that supersede any other law,”

    Sounds like those truck drivers were “coached” by the mysterious person(s) who gave them their driving directions.

  8. I am from South Dakota, for one the Rez has casino the native Indians own it but they sell Beer, and hard liq, the other part the Native Indian Rez is there own land so they do whatever they want but it really never pleases them they need more and like to blame others for their own fault when they know the word NO, We shouldn’t be doing this.. as a south dakota i am nor will i be a babysitter n get punished because they don’t want to fallow there own laws. I have a house up in Mobridge Sd which isn’t far from a Rez and Sitting Bull is a staute as i took my older kids to see this, the own Native Indians disrepected their own leader by spray painting him, hitting him with beer bottles, even shooting it and the land around sitting bull was just filled with trash, I hate to say i will never bring my kids to look at sitting bull ever again i rather have photos so my kids don’t see how they treat someone who fought for their rights. i think he would be ashamed how his tribe is n drinking isn’t a blame its there own fault.. also as a SD we don’t ride are horses to Bars n we don’t have wagons for cars we are like any other state with cars n horses for farming…

  9. AN,
    From what I’ve read the activists were arrested and held for three hours for blocking the road. The Oglala Lakota have vehemently opposed the XL pipeline as the proposed route passes directly through their lands (the Sandhills) and specifically over an aquifer that is used for supplying water.

    Everybody’s mum on who decided to truck the equipment through the reservation, though when initially stopped the drivers claimed that they had, “corporate rights that supersede any other law,” a claim reported by multiple sources.

  10. gbk,

    Suffering through an arrest is worth it in this case, in my opinion. I’m not certain who was responsible for putting the trucks on reservation roads but everybody will think twice before doing it again.

  11. Thanks for the update and links, gbk. I wonder if those who were arrested were merely “shooting videos” and the police taking their cues from the NYPD — refer to the following techdirt article:

    “Tribal police eventually arrested the 57-year-old White Plume, her husband, Alex, and three other people for disorderly conduct.”

    So much damned secrecy these days… God forbid we should know what businesses, corporations and government are “up to”…

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