Flying Dog Brewery, with the support of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, has filed suit in U.S. District Court to overturn the Michigan Liquor Control Commission’s ban on the sale of a popular beer it calls Raging Bitch. The suit also seeks to recover damages from the loss of Flying Dog sales under the statewide ban.
A press release explains:
The brouhaha began in September 2009, when Flying Dog Brewery applied for a license to sell Raging Bitch, the company’s 20th anniversary commemorative beer, in the state of Michigan. The Michigan Liquor Control Commission barred the sale of Raging Bitch, claiming that the beer’s label — designed by renowned British artist Ralph Steadman — is “detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare.”
Flying Dog Brewery disagrees. “Regrettably, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission and its members have taken it upon themselves to control not merely alcoholic beverages, but speech as well,” said Flying Dog Attorney Alan Gura of Washington, D.C.-based Gura & Possessky, PLLC. “The defendants arbitrarily imposed their personal tastes in banning Raging Bitch, clearly violating Flying Dog’s First Amendment right to free expression.”
Gura and Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso announced the filing of the case at Crunchy’s, a craft beer pub near the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing.
Caruso called the pending legal action about more than a beer label. “It’s about regulators gradually morphing into self-appointed thought police,” he said. “We believe not only in freedom of speech and artistic expression for both businesses and individuals, but also in the individual’s fundamental right to choose or reject books, art, literature, artisanal craft beer, and other forms of artistic expression based on their personal preferences.”
Flying Dog created Raging Bitch, a Belgian-Style India Pale Ale, to celebrate the brewery’s 20th anniversary in 2010. Steadman’s Raging Bitch label depicts a female dog drawn in the style for which he has been internationally celebrated. Steadman does the label art for all the Flying Dog beers.
Alan Gottlieb, president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, said that his organization “has joined this important legal case because the issues raised have a profound impact on the right to freely engage in the marketplace.”