Judge dismisses Whiteclay lawsuit


October 2nd, 2012

Omaha, NE – A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against some of the largest beer manufacturers in the world. The suit claimed the beer makers were contributing to chronic alcoholism on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

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Pine Ridge residents can be found nightly in Whiteclay, which attracts drinkers throughout the day. (Photo by Hilary Stohs-Krause, NET News)

The suit was filed in district court in Lancaster County on behalf of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. It named major beer makers, including Anheuser Busch and Miller Coors among others, along with four liquor stores that operate in the border town of Whiteclay, Neb. Whiteclay sits a few hundred yards from the border of Pine Ridge and is home to about 11 people. But the stores sell what amounts to four million cans of beer in Whiteclay each year. So most of that alcohol is presumed to be transported over the border into Pine Ridge, which is a dry reservation.

Tom White, an Omaha lawyer representing the tribe, said in an interview earlier this year that he has been to Whiteclay and seen some of the worst human behavior and suffering related to alcoholism. “I’ve seen people passed out lying in their own urine, I’ve seen them yelling and screaming at each other, fighting,” he said. “I’ve seen them drinking in public…a clear violation of the law.”

“It’s for the listeners (and readers) to decide why we tolerate something like Whiteclay next to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, but we would never tolerate it in any of the cities or other areas of the state,” he said. “We never have.”

U.S. District Judge John Gerrard dismissed the suit Monday but in his ruling, he said there is “little question that alcohol sold in Whiteclay contributes significantly to tragic conditions on the reservation.” He suggested the defendants “could, or should” do more to improve those conditions before saying the matter does not belong in federal court.

White said the judge has left the door open for the tribe to pursue the case in state court, which he is advising his clients to do. Lawyers for the stores and the beer makers have declined to comment after repeated requests.


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