12. Missouri Upholds Alcohol Liability Law (Missouri)
By David A. Lieb - Associated Press
November 8, 2006
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The Missouri Supreme Court upheld a law Tuesday that allows alcohol liability lawsuits against bars and restaurants but blocks suits against convenience and grocery stores rejecting a claim that the distinction was unconstitutional.
A suburban St. Louis mother sought to sue the convenience store that sold her 20-year-old son a 12-pack of beer the night before his fatal 2004 car accident. But a trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, and the Supreme Court agreed that she had no grounds to sue under Missouri law.
That law allows liability suits only against those who sell liquor by the drink for consumption on site _ and even then, only when certain criteria are met.
An attorney for Elois Snodgras, whose son Terry Keown died in the accident, claimed the law's distinction violated the Missouri Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and open access to the courts.
During arguments Oct. 3, St. Louis attorney James Parrot claimed it was "irrational and arbitrary" to allow relatives of a minor sold alcohol by a bar or restaurant to sue but not relatives of a minor who bought alcohol from a convenience or grocery store. In either case, selling the minor alcohol is illegal, he said.
But the Supreme Court's unanimous decision said there are several rational reasons for barring lawsuits against stores that sell packaged liquor to be consumed elsewhere.
First, bartenders have a better opportunity to judge whether customers on-site are underage or intoxicated. Second, sellers of packaged alcohol have no control over their customers once they leave the store, the court said. Finally, lawsuits are not the only means of achieving an objective, the judges said, noting that state law already makes it a misdemeanor to supply alcohol to a minor or for a minor to try to buy it.
"Although reasonable people may disagree about the efficacy of the regulations adopted by the Legislature, such disagreement does not establish an equal protection violation," Judge Richard Teitelman wrote for the court.
The court also rejected an argument that the law violated a constitutional provision declaring "that the courts of justice shall be open to every person, and certain remedy afforded for every injury to person, property or character."
The Supreme Court said the law did not impose a barrier to the courts but rather defined the scope under which a lawsuit could be filed.
The 2002 Missouri law generally prohibits liability lawsuits against businesses when intoxicated people later injure or kill someone. But the law makes exceptions for lawsuits against on-site, liquor-by-the-drink businesses "when it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the seller knew or should have known" that the alcohol was served to someone younger than 21 or to a "visibly intoxicated person."
The law was rewritten in response to a 2000 Supreme Court decision that struck down Missouri's previous alcohol liability law dating to 1985. That law allowed lawsuits only if there was a criminal conviction of serving a minor or intoxicated person. The Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutionally limited people's access to the courts, because the ability to file a civil lawsuit was contingent upon a prosecutor's actions.
13. Underage Bar Ban Arrives With Much Confusion (Missouri)
By Amos Bridges – News-Leader
November 9, 2006 Those affected by the law still aren't sure how it will change things.
Springfield voters showed clear support Tuesday for a DWI Task Force proposal banning minors from bars and nightclubs, but the immediate effects of the new law remain unclear.
City officials, police and bar owners on Wednesday were still sorting out the implications of the ordinance, which generally bans anyone younger than 21 from entering establishments where alcohol makes up 60 percent or more of gross sales, unless accompanied by a parent or court-appointed guardian.
Aggressive enforcement is unlikely in the short term and impossible until Monday night, when the Springfield City Council next meets.
Although the DWI Task Force's ordinance included language stating that it would be in effect upon passage, City Attorney Dan Wichmer said it is trumped by city charter, which requires that new ordinances passed by voters first be certified by the county clerk, then reviewed and accepted by the council. Even then, relatively few establishments are likely to be affected.
An earlier ordinance passed by the Springfield City Council in July similarly restricted minors from entering bars with 60 percent or more in alcohol sales, but allowed 18- to 20-year-olds to patronize bars that received an Underage Patron Permit.
Of 235 establishments in Springfield with licenses to sell alcohol by the drink, just nine applied for the permits, which are no longer valid under the new law.
Of those nine establishments, four — Traffic, Rincon Latino, Remmingtons Downtown and Nathan P. Murphy's — are in downtown Springfield. Cowboys 2000, Dennis' Place, Latin Vibe, Ray's Lounge and Papa Bear's Bar round out the list.
Rusty Worley, director of the Urban Districts Alliance and facilitator for the Hospitality Resource Panel, said he had advised the downtown bars to contact the city for guidance.
"There's enough questions that I think it's going to be a little while before everyone knows how to proceed," he said. "I just encouraged those four to visit with the city finance department about what steps they should pursue to make sure they're in compliance."
When contacted Wednesday, Nathan P. Murphy's manager Wanda Plumb said she was not sure how that business — which has been one of the most common hosts for young bands and their underage fans — would be affected.
Sherrie Mason, the general manager at Dennis' Place, said she expected little change there.
"We've always been a 21-and-over bar, so about the only kids that would be in here would be kids coming to pick up their parents," she said, explaining why the bar applied for an Underage Patron Permit. "We'd have groups come in with an underage person to be designated driver or something, (but) we didn't want to be baby-sitting."
She did express frustration about the frequent changes to the law in recent months.
Springfield Police Chief Lynn Rowe said he understands the confusion and said that officers will be focused on education, rather than enforcement, in their initial contacts with businesses affected by the new law.
"I think it would be fair to communicate with the alcohol outlets to make sure that they know what the law says (and) give them the official word so they're not blindsided by that," Rowe said. "We'll try to help them get into it without getting anyone in trouble right off the bat."
A few bars and nightclubs, such as Midnight Rodeo and Martha's Vineyard, stopped admitting anyone under 21 in August, when the earlier ordinance passed by City Council took effect. Others, such as the Outland Ballroom downtown, organized non-alcoholic events early in the evening for minors, then opened up their bars once the minors had left.
Citing alcohol sales of less than 60 percent, nearly 60 establishments with licenses to serve alcohol by the drink had claimed exemption to the earlier law, however, and will likely continue to do so under the new ordinance.
Many are traditional restaurants such as Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Rib Crib that have minimal alcohol sales.
Others, such as Galloway Station, Ebbet's Field, Buffalo Wild Wings, Fox & Hound, Icon Nightclub or Jordan Creek, have a more significant bar presence, but fall below the 60 percent threshold because of food sales, cover charges and other income.
Even before the election, DWI Task Force members had identified the issue of cover charges counting toward non- alcohol sales as a potential loophole in the law.
The law cannot be amended for at least six months, however — and then only by a unanimous vote by City Council — because it was passed by voters after a petition initiative.
Wichmer, the city attorney, said he and his staff will be meeting with members of the DWI Task Force in the coming months to try to craft a fix.
"They recognize, like we do, that the 60 percent issue causes a problem," he said. "Our goal is to work with the task force to make it a workable law, but for the next six months there are going to be some issues."
It remains to be seen if the cooperative spirit will translate to bar owners, who helped craft the earlier ordinance but were rebuffed in their efforts to reach a compromise with the DWI Task Force.
"We've made a lot of progress in the last year, and I'd hate to see it lose that momentum because of this vote," said Worley, who worked with the HRP to engage downtown bar owners in the creation of the earlier ordinance. "I hope we can maintain that cooperative spirit. We don't need to be playing accounting games but rather looking at the root problem of underage drinking."
14. Alcoholics Finding Way Around Ban - Some Switching to Other Brands of Cheap Booze (Washington)
By Kery Murakami – P-I
November 2, 2006
On Wednesday, the first day of Seattle's expanded ban on 29 brands of cheap booze favored by the homeless, Bill, 55, nursed a 24-ounce bottle of Icehouse at Victor Steinbrueck Park by Pike Place Market.
Once the homeless man polished it off, he headed into the market, pulling a suitcase with two heavy wool blankets on top.
A man named Totem remained at the park. He had said a day earlier that he would spend the first day under the expanded alcohol ban checking into rehab.
Today, he was drinking -- sharing a 40-ounce bottle of Brown Bear beer inside a brown paper bag and a fifth of whiskey with two friends. One sipped happily from an iced tea bottle. "This is good iced tea," she said. The other lay on the grass giggling.
After restricting the sale of cheap alcohol in Pioneer Square in 2003, Mayor Greg Nickels and City Council members petitioned the Washington State Liquor Control Board to expand the area where certain types of alcohol are banned.
The liquor board approved the expansion, and beginning Wednesday, brands such as Thunderbird, Richard's Wild Irish Rose and Night Train Express, were banned in downtown, Belltown, lower Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, the Central Area, the University District and the International District, as well as in Pioneer Square. Those were the brands that turned up most often when the city analyzed litter found in the neighborhoods where they received the most complaints.
Whether the ban truly will cut down on incidents of public drunkenness, as activists in the included neighborhoods hope, won't be known for some time.
Nickels aide Jordan Royer said the city plans to examine whether banning the products in some parts of the city will simply push related problems to another part. He said the expanded ban was in response to complaints about drunken people weaving, yelling and sometimes urinating, in public.
But on the streets of downtown and Capitol Hill, people who acknowledged they were homeless and drunk seemed to find ways to make do.
Icehouse and Brown Bear aren't banned, and so, Bill said, when he woke up in the doorway of a downtown restaurant, he headed for a grocery store he would not name or locate.
"Usually I drink Steel Reserve," he said. "But they were out." More likely the lager, which is on the banned list, was pulled from the refrigerator. So instead, he bought Icehouse, which has less alcohol content than Steel Reserve but more than many others.
A ban on 29 brands of cheap alcohol was expanded throughout downtown Seattle and other parts of the city Wednesday, but the restrictions didn't stop public drinking at Victor Steinbrueck Park.
Outside the Dutch Shisler Sobering Center, which provides social services as well as a place for people drunk on the streets to dry out, a man who'd give only his street name -- Caveman -- said he'd been sober a month and a half. But, he said, "People are going to realize it's cheaper to get whiskey at the state-run (liquor) store. People are going to be drinking harder, and they're going to be getting drunker. It's easier, too, because you can just put it in your soda can."
Liquor board spokeswoman Susan Reams said the six state-run liquor stores in downtown Seattle hadn't shown a greater increase in sales since Pioneer Square's restrictions went into place three years ago.
At a Halloween party Tuesday at the sobering center, John Whiteplume said, "I'm going to get on the bus and just get my (Steel Reserve) in Ballard." From his wallet, he took out a bus pass he said a homeless shelter downtown had given him.
Outside the sobering center, Leander Yahtin said he'd been sober for 13 months. He said he moved to Seattle from Yakima. "Every day I'd see what alcohol does to urban Natives and Alaskans. ... It was the availability of cheap liquor and alcohol that kept them in that state."
He said alcoholics might find other ways to get liquor. "But the fact that they passed the ban gives at least the small possibility that people might make a change."
Wednesday, Suk Kang, owner of Benson's Grocery on East Pike Street and Minor Avenue on Capitol Hill, said liquor companies could just change the names of the products to get around the ban.
Nearby at the Pine Food Grocery on East Pine Street and Boylston Avenue, owner Pio Hong objected to the ban. He voluntarily stopped selling single cans and bottles of alcohol about two years ago, and business hadn't gone down. He thought other stores might suffer, but "before, there were always street bums outside. ... Now they're not there, and more people from the neighborhood come in."
15. Miami Gardens Rejects Liquor License for Wal-Mart (Florida)
By Helen Berggren - Miami Herald
Wal-Mart lost its bid -- at least temporarily -- for permission to open a liquor store in its proposed SAM's Club slated for Miami Gardens.
At a zoning meeting Wednesday, the City Council dismissed with prejudice the retailer's application for a variance to allow for a package store in the members-only club that will be built next to the new Wal-Mart Superstore at 17650 NW Second Ave. The action means Wal-Mart will have to wait at least 18 months before it can reapply.
The club would be in close proximity to three churches, a Jewish school and a day care, and the liquor proposal drew some criticism in advance of the meeting.
The council's vote was welcomed by the Rev. Newton Fairweather, whose North Dade Community Church, 700 NW 175th St., is west of the proposed club.
''The community won and, if the community won, everybody wins,'' Fairweather said. ``Even Wal-Mart wins.''
A Wal-Mart spokesman said the retailer was reconsidering whether to build a SAM's club in the city.
''We are reevaluating that site to decide whether or not we are going to put a SAM'S Club in there,'' said Eric Brewer, Wal-Mart's senior manager for public affairs. ``We are going to be redrawing the map [for SAM'S locations] in South Florida.''