February 19, 2016

20-Year-Old Graduate Student Sues New York Attorney General Over Drinking Age

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Matthew Uhalde grad  — a 20-year-old Cornell student — has sued New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, claiming the legal drinking age makes him feel “ostracized and excluded” from the company of other graduate students.

The lawsuit was prompted by an unfortunate experience at a graduate student social at Big Red Barn last week, according to Uhalde.

Despite having received an invitation to the social, Uhalde said the manager threw him out because he was underage.

“The manager said it was a liability having me there, even if I didn’t drink,” Uhalde said. “It wasn’t the first time something like that had happened. I was feeling excluded and fed up.”

Matthew Kibbee grad, said he sympathizes with Uhalde, calling the drinking age in the U.S. “absurd.”

“I can certainly see how he would feel ostracized because graduate students frequently go to bars,” Kibbee said.

Uhalde said his lawsuit “isn’t about alcohol at all” but about his right to associate with his peers.

“The issue is not that I can’t drink, but rather that it’s hard to go out,” he said. “I have a legal right to associate with my classmates.”

Agreeing with Uhalde, Kibbee said he thinks the complaint has more to do with the broad age range of graduate students rather than the drinking age.

“Some people start graduate school in their early twenties, others start in their thirties or forties once they’ve gotten married,” he said. “In general it can be hard to socialize with people who are significantly older or younger than you are.”

Nathaniel Rogers, grad, said that while he never felt like alcohol consumption was “the foundation of his graduate student social life,” he recognizes that the age limit can be a strong deterrent, especially for Uhalde who entered graduate school at 19 years old.

“I can sympathize with the fact that at 19-years-old, a grad student might have a lot more in common with the undergrads he or she T.A.’s than with his or her academic peers,” Rogers said.

Prof. Kevin Clermont, law, said Uhalde is a “fine student,” but “his lawsuit does not have a snowball’s chance.”

Uhalde said he never intended for his lawsuit to be publicized nor did he do this for attention.                                                      

“I’m only doing this for me,” he said.

  • DDB9000

    “Uhalde said his lawsuit “isn’t about alcohol at all” but about his right to associate with his peers…“I’m only doing this for me,” he said.”

    Who is this idiot? If the issue in not about alcohol, then why sue the state?
    The real issue here would seem to be that someone at the BRB said he couldn’t stay. While I understand the manager’s issue, it could be solved.

    When I go to a place like The Haunt to see music, they check ID, and if you’re underage, you get your hand marked. There’s no reason the BRB or other campus places couldn’t do that.

    If this guy wants to be the perfect poster child (and let’s face it, he is acting like a whiny little child) for this overly litigious society, fine.

    But this childish lawsuit will do absolutely nothing, other than make him look like more of a fool than he is now. It has no chance whatsoever of changing the law, nor will it spearhead any movement on the issue when people read “I’m only doing this for me”…

  • 2nkjnksd

    This is stupid, and not because the high drinking age is good. MANY people, minors and adults alike, will agree with Mr. Uhalde about the absurdity of the high drinking age. But suing the NY Attorney General…what?

  • When I read the first sentence I thought I was reading the Onion or the Cornell joke issue. Then I checked my calendar and saw it was not April 1.

    Uhalde MIGHT have a case against the Big Red Barn IF BRB’s management had specifically invited him to a social event and then kicked him out. This article isn’t clear as to who put together the social and who issued the invitations. But even this case wouldn’t be strong if it is based solely on Uhalde’s freedom of association. The Constitutional guarantee of freedom of association is not a guarantee that one can associate with one’s peers at any time and at any place. Private enterprises are free to prohibit patrons who pose potential liability from entering, so long as their discrimination is not directed against a protected class (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.)

    But to sue the state based on the claim that it is somehow infringing on Uhalde’s right of association??? There are plenty of places outside of the BRB where Uhalde can associate with others. This case has as much chance of succeeding as Donald Trump has of becoming the next Pope.

  • Andrew Frey

    I’m an undergrad, so it’s hard for me to relate to the age disparity that is at the heart of this issue, but I am an undergrad viticulture & enology student. I have to wait 1 year ( I am a sophomore) before I can legaly by something I will have studied, experimented with, and even made! Part of me feels like the only way that the US government will ever see that the high drinking age is absurd is if people like this challenge the law on a regular basis. If not, no law maker will ever care enough to actually solve the problem. He will lose this case, but his actions are a crucial part of getting a stupid law repealed eventually.

    • DDB9000

      “He will lose this case, but his actions are a crucial part of getting a stupid law repealed eventually.”

      But they’re NOT. And this is why this goes beyond stupid and into the realm of moronic. I understand your dilemma, but the nature of this case will do nothing whatsoever to change the law. His actions are in no way crucial.

      If, after all these years, the courts have ignored suits regarding the right to vote at 18 and going to war when 18 as not being valid enough reasons to change the law, how on earth does this guy think “I can’t go out” and “I want to be with my friends” is going to give this cause any forward momentum?

      Hey, I would like to see my friend in Oregon, so should I sue the FAA because airlines won’t give me free tickets there and back?

      • Andrew

        I have no comment on the legalities of the drinking age but that is a TERRIBLE metaphor. He’s not asking for a handout of free stuff.

        • DDB9000

          The free part was not my point per se.

          He complained that because of NYS (a government agency), he ‘could not go out’ and he could ‘not be with friends’ just because they made laws that the BRB must follow, both things which are totally absurd.

          So I took the absurdity to a higher level claiming that the FAA (a government agency) makes it impossible to see my friend in Oregon because the airlines that they oversee want to charge me money.

          Of course there is NO reason I really can’t see my friend in Oregon, just as there is NO reason he can’t go out and can’t see his friends – BUT it just might cost him more money.

  • Nicole

    Wow…gotta respect the balls on this guy. I want him on my team. You go, Matt.