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First amendment lawsuit over Raging Bitch beer label

on 01/04/11 at 10:06 am


A provocative beer label and a debate about First Amendment rights are at the heart of a lawsuit filed by Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick against the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Michigan’s Western District, centers on the commission’s decision in November 2009 to deny an application by Flying Dog to sell its Raging Bitch beer in Michigan because of its label. In July, the commission rejected Flying Dog’s appeal, according to the suit.

Flying Dog seeks an order that the commission’s decision is unconstitutional, as it abridges the brewery’s right of free speech; an order mandating the issuance of a sales license in Michigan for Raging Bitch; unspecified compensatory damages from the commissioners; and attorney fees.

“Beer bottles should be regulated not by the expression of their labels, but by the character of their content,” the plaintiffs state. “Regrettably, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission and its members have taken it upon themselves to control not merely alcoholic beverages, but speech as well.”

The commission has the authority to disapprove any beer label submitted for registration “that is deemed to promote racism, sexism, intemperance or intoxication, or to be detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the general public,” said Sharon Martin, director of licensing for the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

The commission is given full authority by the Michigan legislature to control all alcoholic beverage traffic in the state, Martin said, and commission members looked at the proposed label by Flying Dog “and did not feel it was appropriate for distribution and sale in Michigan.”

“Flying Dog was given their due process,” Martin said.

Alan Gura, a partner with Gura & Possessky in Alexandria, Va., which is representing Flying Dog, acknowledged the commission’s rule but described it as “unconstitutional.”

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