Oglala Sioux Tribe updates lawsuit
By Ruth Moon / RAPID CITY JOURNAL
A lawsuit the Oglala Sioux Tribe filed against several Nebraska liquor stores has legal precedent in old English complaints from landowners against rowdy tavern neighbors, according to the tribe’s attorney.
The argument for recovery of damages in public and private nuisance cases goes back hundreds of years, to when English landowners would sue tavern neighbors for creating loud noises, drunken neighbors and objectionable behavior, attorney Thomas White said Monday.
“This kind of bad behavior on the parts of human beings is nothing new,” White said. “The lawsuit makes it clear that being a bad neighbor is a violational law.”
In 2000, New York City sued Beretta and other gun manufacturers for endangering city residents by letting its guns reach illegal markets, oversupplying some market areas and enforcing poor security practices.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the case in Beretta’s favor by rejecting an appeal early in 2009.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit argues that beer sellers in the 10-resident town of Whiteclay, which is just over the Nebraska border from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, sell alcohol knowing that much of it likely will be illegally consumed on the streets of Whiteclay or be consumed or resold on the dry reservation — and all of those options are illegal, White said.
More than 4.9 million 12-ounce servings of beer were sold in Whiteclay in 2010, according to the lawsuit, which was updated just over a week ago. The lawsuit names several local liquor stores and national beer distributors as defendants.
“Nebraska’s theory is we’ll take the money from alcohol sales — and of course they make a lot of tax money — and we’ll just ship the problems to the reservation,” White said. “That seems acceptable to Nebraska, but of course, it is unacceptable to the people who live on the reservation.”
Attorneys for defendants Stateline Liquor, Dietrich Distributing Co., High Plains Budweiser, Coors Distributing and Pabst Brewing Co. declined to comment for this story. Attorneys for the other defendants in the case did not return calls requesting comment.
White said he became interested in Whiteclay beer sales when he served in the Nebraska Legislature from 2006 to 2010. One store owner said selling alcohol in Whiteclay was like “mining gold in hell,” White said. White proposed the lawsuit to Oglala Sioux Tribe members, and they raised the lawsuit idea again after his term ended, he said.
Nebraskans for Peace has been advocating for reduced alcohol sales in Whiteclay for more than a decade, president Mark Vasina said.
Vasina said he talked with Red Cloud High School students who say it is easy for minors to buy beer in Whiteclay. He said he has talked with others who buy beer there with food stamps, which is illegal. Whiteclay also sustains an active sex trade that revolves around alcohol, Vasina said.
“If you can control the sale of alcohol in Whiteclay, you can control all of these things,” he said.
White said he is hoping for an early trial date.
“There’s more human misery every day,” he said.