- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A federal appeals court on Thursday revived a lawsuit challenging Missouri regulations that broadcasters and others say illegally limit how they can market alcohol.

In reinstating the case, which was tossed out last year by U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. at the state’s behest, an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously ruled the plaintiffs “plausibly stated a claim upon which relief could be granted.”

The 8th Circuit noted the state’s justification that the restrictions are in the public interest by trying to blunt irresponsible alcohol use and underage drinking. But the appellate court cited inconsistencies in the application of the regulations, which permit advertising such generic things as “Happy Hour” and “Ladies Night” - as well as marketing all sales, promotions and discounts - on the retailer’s premises.

The defendants “apparently are not as concerned with retailers baiting consumers to drink excessively once they arrive,” Chief Judge William Jay Riley wrote for the three-judge panel.

In their 2013 lawsuit, the Missouri Broadcasters Association, Zimmer Radio group, Springfield winemaker Meyer Farms and Uncle D’s Sports Bar & Grill in St. Joseph challenged, among other things, the state’s Discount Advertising Prohibition Regulation. That rule makes it illegal for an alcohol advertisement to mention prices, rebates or discounts, essentially barring references to such things as two-for-one beer specials, a wine shop’s going-out-of-business sale or a restaurant special offer of a free drink with a meal purchase.

Calling such regulations an unconstitutional and “chilling” infringement of free speech, broadcasters pressing the lawsuit have said the restrictions have cost them immeasurable potential advertising money.

On Thursday, the St. Louis-based 8th Circuit declared that those suing over the regulations have “included sufficient allegations that the challenged provisions did not directly advance the substantial interest of promoting responsible drinking.”

“A theoretical increase in demand for alcohol based on a lower price does not necessarily mean any consumption of that alcohol is irresponsible,” Riley wrote, adding that “the multiple inconsistencies within the regulations poke obvious holes in any potential advancement of the interest in promoting responsible drinking.”

It was not immediately clear if the state planned to appeal Thursday’s ruling. A message seeking comment was left with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.

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