A: The sale of alcohol to a minor or to an obviously intoxicated person are the types of sales that usually immediately come to mind as being “illegal.” While these are no doubt the most common forms of illegal sales they are by no means the exclusive ways in which a sale can be illegal. Selling alcohol after hours or to someone who is not a bona fide guest of a club or on days the bar is not licensed to sell alcohol (Sundays) are also considered illegal sales. Each form of illegal sale will be addressed individually.
Sale for the use of an obviously intoxicated person
Minnesota law provides:
No person may sell, give, furnish, or in any way procure for another alcoholic beverages for the use of an obviously intoxicated person.
Juries are instructed that:
A person is “intoxicated” when, as a result of drinking alcohol, he or she has lost control to any extent of his or her mental or physical faculties
A person is “obviously intoxicated”, if the intoxication is or should be reasonably evident to another person using the usual powers of observation.
Thus, “obviously intoxicated” does not mean extremely intoxicated. It simply means that signs that the person’s mental or physical faculties have been affected are present.
Whether a person was obviously intoxicated at the time of service is a question of fact that is to be decided by the jury. As you can imagine, one person might believe that an individual is obviously intoxicated while another does not. As well, a seasoned drinker could have a very high blood alcohol concentration but, because of the tolerance that has been built up, not be showing obvious signs of intoxication. The Minnesota appellate courts on more than one occasion have held that blood alcohol concentration in and of itself is insufficient to prove obvious intoxication. It is necessary, therefore, to find witnesses who can testify about the signs of intoxication that were being shown at or before the time the alleged illegal sale was made or prove the obviousness of the intoxication in other ways.
Sales after hours or on prohibited days
The hours during which and the days on which intoxicating liquor can be sold is regulated by statute but is also subject to further Sales to minors
Sales of alcohol to minors (persons under the age of 21 years) is an illegal sale in and of itself and does not require that the minor be obviously intoxicated at the time of the sale. Thus, sale to a minor will result in civil liability if the minor consumes the alcohol and the effects of the alcohol are a substantial contributing factor to the cause of an ensuing collision or other event.
The law provides that the following forms of identification may be accepted by a liquor establishment as proof that a person is 21 years of age or older:
(1) a valid driver’s license or identification card issued by Minnesota, another state, or a province of Canada, and including the photograph and date of birth of the licensed person;
(2) a valid military identification card issued by the United States Department of Defense;
(3) a valid passport issued by the United States; or
(4) in the case of a foreign national, by a valid passport.
That a liquor establishment relied in good faith on one of these forms of identification is a defense to an illegal sale allegation based on age. Relying on an obviously forged identification document would not, of course, constitute “good faith.”
Note: This section did not address the instance when someone other than a liquor establishment sells alcohol to a minor. This issue is discussed below in the Social Host chapter.
Generally, on-sale sales of liquor are limited to Monday through Saturday 8 AM until 2 AM. Off-sale sales of intoxicating liquor are generally limited to Monday through Saturday 8 AM until 10 PM and may not be made on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day or after 8 PM on Christmas Eve. There are many exceptions, such as for restaurants, hotels etc., but these are the general parameters.
The sale of alcohol outside the hours or days that a liquor licensee is licensed to sell is considered an illegal sale. It is not necessary that the sale be made to an obviously intoxicated person. It is the sale outside the hours of operation for which the establishment is licensed that makes the sale illegal. Again, the consumption of the illegally sold alcohol must lead to a state of intoxication sufficient that the intoxication can be said to be a substantial contributing factor to the subsequent conduct that causes harm-typically a car accident.
Late Happy Hours
A potentially additional basis to declare a sale “illegal” may be emerging. Some bars have decided that it is a good idea to have a late “Happy Hour” as well as an early one. They are running drink specials between the hours of 11 PM and closing. Some municipalities have gotten wind of these practices and enacted ordinances prohibiting these late night drink specials. Whether the courts will interpret a violation of such ordinances to constitute an illegal sale remains to be seen.
Sales to non-club members
The Legislature has provided for the licensing of certain clubs that meet the following criteria to sell intoxicating liquor:
Clubs or congressionally chartered veterans organizations with the approval of the commissioner, provided that the organization has been in existence for at least three years and liquor sales will only be to members and bona fide guests, except that a club may permit the general public to participate in a wine tasting conducted at the club under section 340A.419;
The sale of alcohol by a club to a patron who is neither a member of the club nor a bona fide guest of the club or a club member is an illegal sale. Again, it is not necessary that the person be obviously intoxicated at the time this sale is made. Rather, it is only necessary that the effect of the consumption of the alcohol be a substantial contributing factor in an ensuing accident that causes harm.
The Legislature has not provided guidance with regard to what constitutes a “bona fide guest.” In one case where the club patron came in to the club alone, sat alone, did not sign the club guestbook and was known by the bartender not to be a member of the club it was held as a matter of law that the patron was not a bona fide guest.