Indiana court denies liquor license to company that already has beer license

By Todd Barnett | Jul 31, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS (Legal Newsline) – On July 21, the Indiana Supreme Court, citing anti-monopoly liquor licensing statutes, overturned a trial court ruling granting Spirited Sales LLC a wholesale liquor license.

Spirited Sales is owned by E.F. Transit, a company that shares the same shareholders as Monarch Beverage. Since Indiana law specifically prohibits companies with the same owners from holding both beer and liquor wholesaler permits, the court unanimously upheld the state Alcohol and Tobacco Commission’s (ATC) original decision to deny Spirited Sales a liquor license, and overturned a trial court’s ruling ordering ATC to grant the license.

In a written opinion supported by Justice Geoffrey Slaughter and Chief Justice Loretta Rush, Justice Steven David wrote “There can be no doubt that Indiana is empowered to do what the Commission has urged here – which is to bar companies with same ultimate owners from simultaneously holding both beer and liquor-wholesaler permits.”

Spirited Sales initially applied for a liquor wholesaler permit in September 2013. The ATC denied the request in December 2014 because the company’s parent company, E.F. Transit, has the same shareholders and company officers as Monarch, a beer wholesaler. Spirited launched a petition with the Marion County Superior Court challenging the ATC’s decision to deny the permit. 

In August 2016, Marion Judge Heather Welch rejected the ATC’s decision on that grounds that its rejection of Spirited’s application was “arbitrary and capricious” and politically motivated. 

Welch subsequently ordered the ATC to grant Spirited a liquor wholesaler permit. The ATC filed an appeal, requesting a stay on the trial court’s order, but this was denied in September 2016 by the trial court, and again by a divided appellate panel in October 2016.

On July 21, the Indiana Supreme Court reinstated the ATC’s original decision and overturned Welch’s order directing the ATC to issue Spirited a wholesaler license. 

David wrote that the court’s decision “rests purely on our interpretation of the statute’s language.” He held that the ATC “did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in initially denying the applicant’s request” and found that “the [ATC’s] denial was not based on political grounds.”

Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission v. Spirited Sales LLC case number 49S00-1611-PL-614

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