* Anheuser: regulator's ruling curbs interstate commerce
* Illinois commission declines to comment
By Martinne Geller and Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, March 11 Brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev
NV (ABI.BR) has sued an Illinois state regulator for blocking
its attempt to buy an alcoholic beverage distributor, in
violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit by the world's largest brewer followed
Wednesday's ruling by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission
that Anheuser was a "nonresident dealer," making it ineligible
under state law to also operate as a distributor.
Anheuser had sought through its Wholesaler Equity
Development Corp affiliate to buy the 70 percent of City
Beverage it did not already own, for what it called a
"substantial amount of money."
The seller is Soave Enterprises, a privately held,
Detroit-based company with holdings in dozens of companies.
Anheuser has owned 30 percent of City Beverage since 2005.
Anheuser brands include Budweiser, Bud Light, Stella Artois and
Beck's, among others.
A spokeswoman for the commission declined to comment on the
lawsuit, which was filed in Chicago federal court against the
Illinois commission and Acting Chairman Stephen Schnorf.
Illinois has a "three tier" system for selling alcoholic
beverages that requires producers to sell beverages to
wholesalers or distributors, which then sell them to bars,
restaurants and stores.
The commission had in its Wednesday ruling defended the
system, which it said achieves the public policy objectives of
avoiding potential vertical monopolies and limiting the risk
that cheap alcohol could flood the market.
Yet Anheuser complained that the ruling constitutes mere
"thinly-veiled economic protectionism" in favor of in-state
brewers, and violates the Commerce Clause because it inhibits
"The effect of this explicit discrimination is to confer
substantial economic benefits on in-state beer producers at
plaintiffs' expense," Anheuser said. It called the commission's
review and decision-making "highly suspect and arbitrary."
Anheuser's lawsuit seeks to block the Illinois commission
from improperly interfering with the City Beverage acquisition
and denying appropriate distributor licenses.
The case is Anheuser-Busch Inc et al. v. Schnorf et al,
U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No.
(Reporting by Martinne Geller and Jonathan Stempel; Editing by