Nebraska court's ruling ends beer sales near South Dakota reservation

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 29, 2017 11:54 AM

By Kevin O'Hanlon

LINCOLN, Neb. (Reuters) - Nebraska's Supreme Court on Friday dismissed an appeal involving four stores that wanted to resume beer sales in a small border village near a South Dakota American Indian reservation that has struggled with alcohol abuse problems.

The court's ruling, in dismissing the appeal, effectively upholds an April decision by state regulators to refuse renewal of the stores' liquor licenses, citing inadequate law enforcement in Whiteclay. The village is walking distance from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Alcohol is illegal on the reservation, a 3,500-square-mile expanse that is home to some 20,000 Oglala Sioux. The tribe has struggled with alcoholism.

Tribal officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"Today, the legal process removed four big rocks from the road to a better future for the ... people and the Pine Ridge Reservation," David Domina, attorney for several Sheridan County residents who had formally objected to the beer sales, said by telephone.

Domina added the ruling was "the end of profligate and pernicious beer sales among vulnerable Native persons."

Andrew Snyder, an attorney for the beer stores, could not immediately be reached to comment.

The Whiteclay beer sales have been blamed by advocacy groups and others for worsening problems such as widespread alcoholism and high levels of fetal alcohol syndrome that affect an estimated one in four children on the reservation.

Tribal leaders asked a federal judge in 2012 to block liquor sales in Whiteclay. The judge found the claims did not involve federal law and dismissed the lawsuit but acknowledged alcohol sold in Whiteclay contributed to problems on the reservation.

On Friday, Nebraska's high court said the appeal of the license ruling was improper because some of the involved parties, specifically the Sheridan County residents represented by Domina, were not included in the proceedings.

"Our decision today does not address the merits of the parties' respective positions, but rests solely on jurisdictional grounds," the seven-judge court said in its decision.

The stores cannot refile their case because the time limit for appealing the license decision has expired, Domina said.

(Reporting by Kevin O'Hanlon; editing by Susan Thomas)