July 02, 2019
Last week, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Thomas, No. 18-96 (“Tennessee Retailers”). The full opinion can be read here, and our introduction to the case and issues can be found here. To recap, at issue in this case is the interplay between the Dormant Commerce Clause and the 21st Amendment. The Dormant Commerce Clause prohibits states from discriminating against interstate commerce, while the 21st Amendment grants to each state the authority to regulate alcohol within its borders. In Tennessee Retailers, the Court considered to what extent the 21st Amendment allows states to pass laws regulating the alcohol industry that would otherwise be prohibited by the Dormant Commerce Clause.
The Court last addressed this question in 2005, when the Court held in Granholm v. Heald that the 21st Amendment “does not immunize all [state alcohol] laws from Commerce Clause challenge.” In that case, the Court invalidated laws that favored in-state wineries over out-of-state wineries with respect to direct sales and shipments to consumers. Last week’s ruling in Tennessee Retailers confirmed a broad reading of the prior ruling in Granholm, as applied to a Tennessee law requiring applicants for retail liquor store licenses to live in the state for two years before being eligible for the license. The Court held that Tennessee’s discrimination against out-of-state individuals in the granting of retail licenses violates the Dormant Commerce Clause, and is not saved by the 21st Amendment. The Court ruled that the 21st Amendment “allows each State leeway to enact the measures that its citizens believe are appropriate to address the public health and safety effects of alcohol use and to serve other legitimate interests,” but that it does not “license the States to adopt protectionist measures with no demonstrable connection to those interests” in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause. The Court also clarified that the prior ruling in Granholm was not limited to prohibiting discrimination against out-of-state products and producers, and that states are prohibited from discriminating against any out-of-state interests, including out-of-state individuals or retailers.
Much of the news coverage and discussion of this case has focused on the impact of the case on state laws that allow in-state retailers to ship alcohol directly to consumers, but prohibit out-of-state retailers from doing the same. Some coverage implied that such laws were automatically invalidated by the Court’s ruling, but the retailer direct shipping issue was not in front of the Court. While the ruling in Tennessee Retailers does confirm that the principles in Granholm apply to all out-of-state interests, rather than just out-of-state producers, the ruling does not categorically prohibit all state alcohol laws that do not treat in-state and out-of-state businesses equally. The ruling is instead a continuation of the Granholm conversation. The ruling confirms that states “‘remain free to pursue’ their legitimate interests in the health and safety risks posed by the alcohol trade,” and that the 21st Amendment does confer additional regulatory authority to the states. However, when a discriminatory state law is “purely protectionist” and cannot be “justified as a public health or safety measure” or on some other “legitimate non-protectionist ground,” then the law will be found unconstitutional. Thus, state laws that allow in-state retailers to ship alcohol directly to consumers, but prohibit out-of-state retailers from doing so, are not definitively unconstitutional following the ruling in Tennessee Retailers. These laws are only unconstitutional if the state cannot establish that the laws are necessary to advance a legitimate local purpose, such as protecting public health and safety, and that there are no reasonable nondiscriminatory alternatives that can adequately further that purpose.
So, what does this ruling really mean? First, the ruling is a victory for out-of-state individuals and entities that desire to apply for a retail liquor store license in Tennessee. Second, other states with burdensome retail residency requirements, such as Massachusetts and Maryland, are likely evaluating the legality of their laws in light of the ruling in Tennessee Retailers. Such states may opt to eliminate such requirements, or may decide to leave the residency requirements in place until challenged. Given the language in Tennessee Retailers analyzing the lack of connection between Tennessee’s residency requirements and advancing public health and safety interests, leaving burdensome residency requirements in place may be risky. But, the State of Tennessee did not attempt to defend its laws, and the public health and safety arguments put forth by the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association were cursory, and thus other states may believe that they can do a better job defending their laws. If any states decide to leave retail residency requirements in place, it is likely that litigation will follow. Third, states with residency requirements for wholesaler licenses, such as Missouri, are also likely weighing whether to revise such laws or to leave the residency requirements in place until challenged. Missouri’s wholesaler residency requirements were upheld as constitutional by the 8th Circuit in 2013. However, the 8th Circuit ruling was based on a narrow reading of Granholm, and that interpretation was directly refuted by the Court in Tennessee Retailers. Accordingly, it would not be surprising to see litigation on this issue in the very near future, if such states do not remove wholesaler residency requirements. Finally, even less-burdensome residency requirements, such as requirements for licensees to have a resident manager, may be vulnerable to challenge.
While residency requirements will be most directly in the line of fire following Tennessee Retailers, the ruling has the potential to impact many other aspects of state alcohol regulation. Unlike Granholm, the Tennessee Retailers Court declined to describe the three-tier system as “unquestioningly legitimate.” The Court clarified that while the basic three-tier model may be sound, the 21st Amendment does not sanction “every discriminatory feature that a State may incorporate into its three-tiered scheme.” It is unclear to what extent Tennessee Retailers will spur states to act on their own to revise discriminatory aspects of the state’s alcohol regulatory scheme. We may see states make changes independently, but it may be that significant change will only be achieved through litigation. As the Court noted, “each variation [of three-tiered alcohol regulatory schemes] must be judged on its own features.” Because discriminatory alcohol laws are only unconstitutional if they are not reasonably necessary to advance a legitimate local purpose, states may leave discriminatory laws on the books in the hopes that they can justify those laws if challenged. Accordingly, the most direct outcome of Tennessee Retailers will likely be a considerable amount of litigation.
Which laws are the most likely targets of litigation? Any state alcohol laws that discriminate against “out-of-state economic interests” are vulnerable to challenge under Granholm and Tennessee Retailers. So, litigation could focus on laws that authorize only in-state retailers to deliver or ship to consumers, or it could target laws such as physical presence requirements, tied-house exceptions that allow only in-state producers to operate retail locations, laws that require retailers to purchase from in-state sources, laws that authorize only in-state suppliers to self-distribute products to retailers, at-rest laws, or franchise law exemptions that apply only to in-state suppliers. The recent ruling in Tennessee Retailers may also inspire further litigation and move the needle in the related area of alcohol laws that are facially neutral but potentially discriminatory in effect. For example, states such as New Jersey or Ohio with laws that have special privileges for certain “small” producers, where the definition of “small” may be designed to encompass most or all in-state producers while excluding many out-of-state producers.
While we noted above that some news coverage has overstated the immediate impact of Tennessee Retailers on out-of-state retailer direct to consumer shipping or delivery, the ruling will undoubtedly lead to more litigation regarding these laws. Some of that litigation may be successful in invalidating laws that allow in-state retailers to ship or deliver alcohol directly to consumers, but prohibit out-of-state retailers from doing so. However, each case will depend upon the specifics of the state’s regulatory scheme and the state’s public health and safety justifications for that scheme. While the justifications for Tennessee’s residency requirements were weak, states may have stronger public health and safety justifications for laws regulating delivery and direct shipping, such as preventing underage drinking or delivery of alcohol to intoxicated persons. Note, however, that this argument was held in Granholm to be insufficient justification for treating in-state and out-of-state wineries differently with respect to the shipment of wine to consumers. But, the strength of public health and safety justifications will likely be different in states that allow retailer hand delivery but not shipment by common carrier of alcohol, and these justifications may also be different with respect to beer or spirits as opposed to wine. Furthermore, states may have additional public health and safety justifications based on preventing counterfeit alcohol. An out-of-state retailer would not obtain its products from the same distribution system as an in-state retailer, and the state’s public health and safety justifications for its distribution system and requirements for alcohol sourcing may be persuasive. However, a state making this argument would likely also need to assert that there are no reasonable nondiscriminatory alternatives to accomplishing the goal of preventing counterfeit alcohol.
There are at least two cases already pending that challenge state laws with respect to alcohol shipping and delivery. In Missouri, Sarasota Wine Market v. Schmitt is on appeal to the 8th Circuit. The lower court held that Missouri’s laws permitting in-state retailers to ship wine directly to consumers, but prohibiting out-of-state retailers from doing the same, are valid under the 21st Amendment. However, this ruling was based on the 8th Circuit precedent mentioned above, which relied on a narrow interpretation of Granholm that was contradicted by the Court in Tennessee Retailers. Further, Lebamoff Enterprises v. Snyder, challenging Michigan’s wine shipping laws that treat in-state and out-of-state retailers differently, is pending before the 6th Circuit. In that case, the lower court held that Michigan’s laws are unconstitutional, as they impermissibly discriminate against out-of-state interests without sufficient justification in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause. This ruling and appeal were stayed pending the outcome in Tennessee Retailers. These two cases will likely provide the earliest insight into how courts will apply the recent Supreme Court ruling.
Even if the outcome of these cases is that state laws are found invalid, it will not necessarily mean that these states will allow out-of-state retailer direct shipments. Upon a court ruling that a state’s laws are discriminatory and unconstitutional, the state could decide to rectify the issue by “leveling down” to prohibit all retailer alcohol shipments to consumers, from both in-state and out-of-state retailers. As such, the law would apply equally to all retailers regardless of location, so it would not be discriminatory. “Leveling down” to remove all retailer alcohol shipping privileges would likely be unpopular with consumers, but it may find support from some segments of the alcohol industry. Thus, this outcome remains a possibility even if litigation challenging laws prohibiting out-of-state retailer shipping is successful.
Overall, we will have to wait and see what the ruling in Tennessee Retailers will mean for the alcohol industry. But, if you have any questions regarding this ruling or how current laws affect your alcohol business, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
May 28, 2019
Since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, U.S. Supreme Court cases addressing the way alcohol is sold in the United States are not common. Most recently, the Court’s 2005 decision in Granholm v. Heald held that a state could not permit in-state wineries to sell and ship wine directly to consumers if the state precluded out-of-state wineries from enjoying the same right. In light of the ruling, many states revised their laws to allow direct-to-consumer sales and shipments from out-of-state wineries as well as in-state wineries. Retailers on the other hand, were more or less unaffected by the Granholm ruling and remain subject to various state prohibitions against out-of-state retailers shipping alcohol directly to in-state consumers.
In January, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on a new alcohol law case that will further delineate the states’ powers to regulate alcohol. Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Blair, No. 18-96, (“Tennessee Retailers”) asks whether the 21st Amendment, which gives states broad discretion to govern alcohol, empowers Tennessee to regulate the sale of alcohol through strict residency requirements for alcohol retail license applicants. Or, whether the imposition of those residency requirements and the effect on out-of-state license applicants violates the Dormant Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from discriminating against interstate commerce. The Petitioner in Tennessee Retailers, Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association (“TWSRA”), contends that the 21st Amendment permits states to regulate the sale of alcohol within their own borders, so Tennessee may require alcohol retail license applicants to reside in the state for two years before a retail license may be granted. The Respondents, Total Wine and Doug and Mary Ketchum, claim that Tennessee’s residency requirements violate the Dormant Commerce Clause because they discriminate against non-residents. The case originated when the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (“TABC “) asked a court to determine the legality of the subject restrictions. The district court and the Sixth Circuit held that Tennessee’s residency requirement is unconstitutional, as the law is facially discriminatory and there was no evidence that alternative non-discriminatory regulations could not achieve the same purpose of protecting the health and safety of Tennessee residents. TWSRA appealed the Sixth Circuit decision to the Supreme Court. The case is now fully-briefed, oral argument is over (the transcript from oral argument can be found here), and the parties await the Court’s opinion.
The Supreme Court has previously ruled that the Dormant Commerce Clause applies to prohibit states from discriminating against out-of-state alcohol products or producers, despite the 21st Amendment. The Tennessee Retailers case asks the Court to weigh the balance of the 21st Amendment and the Dormant Commerce Clause in the context of laws governing the issuance of in-state retail alcohol licenses. Advocates of retailer direct-to-consumer alcohol shipping hope that the Court will issue a broad ruling that holds that the Dormant Commerce Clause applies to limit states’ 21st Amendment powers to regulate alcohol retailers generally. The hope is that a broad ruling that applies the non-discrimination requirements of the Dormant Commerce Clause to alcohol retailers would require states to treat in-state and out-of-state retailers equally with respect to direct-to-consumer shipping privileges. However, even if the Court finds that the Dormant Commerce Clause limitsstates’ powers under the 21st Amendment with respect to the regulation of alcohol retailers, that would not automatically open up out-of-state retailer direct-to-consumer shipping. Under the Dormant Commerce Clause, a state is still permitted to enact discriminatory laws if the law advances a legitimate state purpose that cannot be adequately served by other reasonable nondiscriminatory alternatives. The Supreme Court has previously held that the three-tier system is “unquestionably legitimate,” and thus a state could still pass discriminatory laws that support the three-tier system, unless there are other reasonable nondiscriminatory alternatives.
We will have to wait to see whether the Court will rule broadly or narrowly. Regardless of how the Court rules, the case will have an impact on the regulation of alcohol by individual states. The Court could issue its opinion soon, and Strike & Techel will update the Alcohol.law Digest with further information when that happens.
February 10, 2016
Several states restrict or ban happy hour promotions, and many people assume that these restrictions are a remnant of Prohibition. However, the practice of “happy hour”—gathering before dinner for cocktails, wine, or beer—did not actually arise until during Prohibition. Because the sale of alcohol was illegal, drinking was a surreptitious activity performed in the privacy of homes or speakeasies. Thus, enthusiastic imbibers would gather in private for a couple of drinks prior to heading out to a public establishment for dinner, where alcohol would not be served. Following the repeal of Prohibition, happy hour specials were popular at restaurants and bars across the nation. However, the 1980s brought an increased focus on preventing drunk driving, which spurred changes to alcohol laws. In 1984, President Reagan signed a bill encouraging the nationwide adoption of 21 as the minimum drinking age, and states that refused to raise the legal drinking age to 21 lost substantial federal highway funds. Also, during this time, several states and municipalities passed laws banning happy hours in an attempt to reduce excessive consumption and drunk driving.
Happy hour regulations can take many forms. Examples of happy hour promotion types that are frequently prohibited or restricted include:
Although many states have regulations prohibiting happy hour promotions, there have been some permissive changes in the past few years. In 2012, Kansas relaxed its laws regarding on-premises alcohol promotions, and drink specials that last only a portion of the day or apply only to a segment of the population are now permissible. In 2014, Virginia revised its happy hour laws slightly, allowing bars and restaurants to use the phrase “happy hour” via advertisements both on and off the licensed premises. In 2015, happy hour returned to Illinois, which now allows licensees to offer temporary drink specials for up to four hours per day, and not more than fifteen hours per week.
For advice regarding your state’s regulations governing happy hours and other alcohol promotions, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
February 24, 2014
Last Thursday, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed House Bill 610 by a vote of 71-15, voting to allow the issue of the sale of wine in grocery stores to be submitted to voters in local referendums, and creating a permit for the sale of wine by grocery stores. On January 30, the Senate had approved Senate Bill 837 by a vote of 23-8. The Bill will now be returned to the Senate to review the remaining differences between the two bills, before it goes to the Governor for signature. If signed by the Governor, it is anticipated that the issue could be on local November ballots for consumers to weigh in on local approval of grocery store wine sales.
One of the key differences between the two bills was fixed by the House in its new version, with the reduction of minimum size for grocery and convenience stores from 2,000 to 1,200 square feet, allowing about 500 more convenience stores to qualify. The House also reduced the fee for a grocery store wine license to $1,250 from $2,000, bringing it closer to the $850 in the Senate Bill. Already, following the House vote, Sen. Bill Ketron, the Republican who sponsored the Senate Bill, indicated to reporters that he planned to accept the House version and could ask for a vote as soon as March 3.
Even if approved, wine sales won’t be possible in grocery locations until summer 2016 due to an agreement reached with lobbies for liquor stores and wholesalers that had opposed the proposals. In another concession to liquor stores, both bills open up opportunities for traditional liquor stores to sell items other than alcohol and to do so as soon as this summer, two years before any grocery store wine sales could begin. Liquor stores are currently allowed to sell only wine and distilled spirits and a few minor accessories like corkscrews. Additionally, grocery stores would be subject to a minimum 20% markup on wines sold, in an attempt to address volume discounting, and would be prevented from offering combined deals of wine and other grocery items. To encourage wholesaler support, the Senate Bill allows for wholesalers to be located outside the four major cities in the state which they are currently restricted to, and the House Bill would extend that even further to any county which currently permits bars or liquor stores to operate. Blue laws, preventing Sunday sales of alcohol, will not be affected by any new legislation, and such sales will continue to be prohibited.
The debate in Tennessee has been ongoing since 2006. It is not the only state which has been discussing this issue as we previously blogged here. Currently, thirty-five states do not restrict the sale of wine in grocery stores. No state has managed to pass legislation changing the status quo since Iowa permitted grocery store sales in 1985. Factions in New York, now the second largest wine-producing state by volume, have attempted to pass wine in grocery store bills on numerous occasions, including a significant push in 2011. The Kansas House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee held a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 2556 which would allow the sale of full strength beer and wine in grocery stores, inducing vigorous debate. A bill introduced to the Oklahoma Legislature this month, which would permit wine to be sold in grocery stores and nonalcoholic beverages and refrigerated beer and wine to be sold in liquor stores, died in Committee. And last month, a federal appeals court in Kentucky ruled that the state’s ban on grocery store sales of wine and liquor was constitutional. The court said that the state had every right to ban such sales, “just as a parent can reduce a child’s access to liquor.” The grocers who filed the original challenge to the law are reviewing rehearing and appeal options now.
If you have any questions about where wine can be sold, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·
June 27, 2011
Earlier this month, Tennessee became the 35th state to allow spirits tastings, with the passage of Senate Bill 1224, which will permit restaurants, bars, and liquor stores to offer limited alcohol sampling. The bill, which was signed into law on June 10thand is codified at Tennessee Code Annotated Section 57-3-404(h)(2), will allow spirits retailers to conduct tastings for “sales, education, and promotional purposes.” Similar to tasting laws in most other states, spirits wholesalers may not take part in the events, and are specifically precluded from directly or indirectly providing any “products, funding, labor, support or reimbursements to a retailer.” The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission will be establishing rules specifying how tastings must be conducted.
Tennessee is among a growing list of states that have authorized limited tastings since 2009, joining California, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2011 · All Rights Reserved ·
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