On October 1, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) against brewers, retailers and distributors of alcohol sold in Whiteclay, Nebraska. The lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge John M. Gerrard, without prejudice, which means the tribe is free to take their claims to state court.
According to OST’s attorney and former Nebraska State Senator, Tom White, the judge had every opportunity to say the case did not have legal merit, but did not. “The defense did not get what they wanted,” says White. “The judge did not throw out even one claim and he read it carefully.”
In an article by CBS News, Gerrard wrote in his ruling: “There is, in fact, little question that alcohol sold in Whiteclay contributes significantly to tragic conditions on the reservation. And it may well be that the defendants could, or should, do more to try to improve those conditions for members of the tribe. But that is not the same as saying that a federal court has jurisdiction to order them to do so.”
Though the case was dismissed in Federal court, White says the judge was not just careful in his wording to avoid prejudice, he also flatly refused to throw out the case as requested by the defendant‘s lawyers.
“The defendant’s wanted that court to say that the things we alleged and claims we made were not even worthy of sitting in that court. The Judge specifically did not say that. He very carefully quoted the horrible injuries that alcohol does to the Oglala tribe and quoted from our petition that the alcohol sold in vast quantities were completely consumed.”
White stated that the case was not simply a dismissal.
“It looks like we got hammered,” said White. “When you have some of the most powerful corporations asking the judge to say there is no merit here and he won’t, that is not what they want to sell. The way I read it is they federally encouraged us to go to state court.
“What is nice about it is, if we go to state court we can get a state judge to order the liquor commission to close these guys down,” said White.
Earlier this year, the Oglala Sioux tribe filed a 500 million dollar lawsuit that claims the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, which sits less than 250 feet from the border of the Pine Ridge Reservation and sells just nearly 5 million cans of beer annually, is responsible for the massive amounts of alcohol consumed as well as the collateral damages caused to the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Defendants in the lawsuit included four Whiteclay beer stores, as well as regional distributors and four manufacturers to include Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors Brewing Company, Miller Coors LLC and Pabst Brewing Company.