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.
December 08, 2017
With the close of the 2017 legislative session, Governor Brown signed several new alcoholic beverage bills into law, which will become effective on January 1, 2018. Two of the more controversial bills failed to make it through the legislative process – SB 254 would have further regulated alcohol delivery services and SB 384 (renamed) would have allowed on-sale licensees to apply to the ABC to extend hours of sale and service to 4 am. While dead in the water at the close of this session, these closely watched bills are expected to surface again in upcoming legislative sessions.
AB 997 provides an exception to the restriction that prohibits a licensee from having alcoholic beverages on its licensed premises other than the type that the licensee is authorized to sell. Business and Professions Code Section 25607 is amended to allow a licensed winegrower (Type 02) and a licensed small beer manufacturer (Type 23) to share a joint tasting room, so long as it is adjacent to the area where both of the licensees hold production licenses. The privilege is not extended to holders of large beer manufacturer licenses (Type 01), nor does it apply to branch office locations (duplicate licenses).
AB 1221 establishes the Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) Training Program Act of 2017 and requires the ABC to “develop, implement, and administer a curriculum for an RBS training program” by January 1, 2020. Beginning July 1, 2021, all alcohol servers will be required to complete an RBS training program. Alcohol servers include employees of on-sale licensees who serve alcoholic beverages, any person who supervises or manages such an employee, and a designee for alcoholic beverage sales and service pursuant to a temporary license. The training will include instruction on state laws and regulations relating to alcoholic beverage control and driving under the influence, the social and physical impacts of alcohol, and intervention techniques to prevent sales to underage and intoxicated persons. Training may be provided by the ABC for a maximum fee of $15 or through an accredited agency as approved by the ABC. The provisions of the RBS Training Program will be found in newly added Business and Professions Code Sections 25680 – 25686.
AB 711 amends Business and Professions Code Section 25600 to allow beer manufacturers to provide free or discounted rides to consumers for the purposes of furthering public safety. Such free or discounted rides, so long as not conditioned on the purchase of an alcoholic beverage, provide an exception to the prohibition on giving any premium, gift or free goods in connection with
the sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages. Beer and wine wholesalers are prohibited from participating and beer manufacturers are prohibited from providing a gift or anything of value directly or indirectly to a licensed retailer.
For more information about the recent changes to California’s alcohol laws, contact an attorney at Strike & Techel.
August 28, 2017
After a January 2016 Ninth Circuit decision, there was a big question mark in California over whether the state could justify its laws creating and protecting the three tier system. The decision raised a real issue over whether the First Amendment right to free speech might triumph over three tier laws preventing supplier-paid advertisements in retail stores. In January 2016, no position was taken by the court on whether the law was justified, but the language of the opinion strongly suggested that the court had doubts that it could be. A June 2017 decision lays that question to rest, and affirms California’s right to legislate to prohibit suppliers from paying retailers for advertising, based on its powers under the Twenty-First Amendment, and thus issuing a strong reinforcement of the validity of the three tier system and the laws that maintain it.
On June 14, the Ninth Circuit handed down a ten-to-one en banc decision, rejecting a First Amendment challenge to California’s law preventing suppliers from paying for advertising on licensed retail premises (Retail Digital Network v. Prieto, No. 13-56069). The plaintiff/appellant, Retail Digital Network, LLC (“RDN”), operates a business supplying digital screen displays to retailers across California, most of which are licensed to sell alcoholic beverages. The screens show short advertisements for various different consumer products, and the income received by RDN from those advertisers is shared with the host retail store. Frustrated at their difficulty in selling advertising slots to alcoholic beverage suppliers, RDN brought an action against the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), in the U.S. District Court for California, asking the Court to find the law stopping suppliers from paying for ads on their screens unconstitutional.
In order to succeed in the case, RDN had to overcome a thirty year old decision by the Ninth Circuit in a very similar case, where the company in question sold ads on shopping carts used in retail stores (Actmedia, Inc. v. Stroh, 830 F. 2d. 957 (9th Cir. 1986)) (“Stroh”). The same statute at issue in the RDN case, which prevents anything of value from being provided by a supplier or wholesaler to a retailer in return for advertising, had been challenged in that case, based on the same argument that it infringed the advertiser’s First Amendment right to free speech (the statute in question is California Business & Professions Code §25503(f)-(h)). Back in 1986, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the state’s right to regulate the commercialization of liquor pursuant to the Twenty-First Amendment, and, in particular, to legislate to achieve goals like the promotion of temperance and protection of the three tier system, provided sufficient justifications to uphold the constitutionality of the law. The court used the recognized, four-part, intermediate scrutiny test for analyzing content-based restrictions on non-misleading commercial speech, known as the “Central Hudson” test (based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission, 447 U.S. 557 (1980)). In order to get around the Stroh precedent, RDN argued in its claim that an intervening 2011 Supreme Court decision had changed the Central Hudson test for a First Amendment commercial speech review, creating a more demanding level of Court scrutiny over legislative restrictions on such speech, referred to as “heightened” scrutiny (Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc., 564 U.S. 552 (2011)) (“Sorrell”).
After receipt of RDN’s claim, the ABC filed for, and was granted, summary judgment on the basis that the Stroh precedent was not irreconcilable with Sorrell. RDN appealed to the Ninth Circuit, where three judges agreed that Sorrell had changed the level of scrutiny to be applied to limits on speech, and remanded the case to the District Court to hear more evidence on the reasons asserted by the state to justify the law. The District Court was directed by the Ninth Circuit to apply heightened rather than intermediate review to those reasons, on the basis of the decision in Sorrell. In addition to reversing the decision, the Ninth Circuit also took time to point out some concerns for the District Court to consider on remand, in its assessment of whether the ABC could legitimately raise any justification for the law, in part because of the large number of special interest exceptions created by the Legislature over the years.
When the initial Ninth Circuit decision was handed down in January 2016, it generated a huge industry response, with many concerns raised over its implied challenge to the integrity of the three tier foundational protections. In a highly unusual circumstance, the Ninth Circuit agreed to a rehearing of the case with eleven judges en banc, which hearing took place in January this year.
In the decision issued in June, the Ninth Circuit reversed its own January 2016 ruling, with ten judges confirming the original District Court summary judgment ruling, and one judge dissenting. Of the three judges who originally heard the case in the Ninth Circuit, only Chief Judge Thomas was part of the bench for rehearing, and he was the lone dissent. The court reviewed and essentially reaffirmed its decision in Stroh, and the applicability of the Central Hudson intermediate scrutiny test. The Ninth Circuit majority confirmed that the law in question was as narrowly drawn as possible to serve the state’s important goal of protecting the three tier system, by preventing possible illegal payoffs from suppliers to retailers, disguised as advertising payments, and by preventing suppliers and wholesalers from exerting undue influence over retailers. They diverged from Stroh only to state that they did not endorse the state’s other listed goal of promoting temperance by limiting point of purchase advertising, as being a legitimate justification for the law. The argument raised by RDN, and referred to in the initial Ninth Circuit decision, that the special interest exceptions undermine the purpose of the tied house law, was rejected by the court on the basis that they only affect a small minority of licensed retailers, and have a minimal effect on the entire regulatory scheme.
The majority’s decision leaves little question remaining as to the validity of the three tier system, and its legislative and regulatory protections in California.
If you have any questions about your alcohol business’ advertising practices or its relationships with retailers, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
February 17, 2016
Effective January 1, 2016, the California ABC Act contains a new section that loosens the restrictions suppliers face when mentioning a retailer in a social media post. Newly added Business and Professions Code § 23355.3 is aimed at clarifying how suppliers and retailers can co-sponsor nonprofit events. It was drafted, in part, as a response to the backlash that occurred after the ABC filed accusations against several wineries for advertising sponsorship of the “Save Mart Grape Escape” charity fundraising event in 2014. In that instance, several wineries posted or tweeted their support and sponsorship of the event on social media. The ABC reasoned that the suppliers were impermissibly advertising for Save Mart, a retailer, even though the event was held under a nonprofit permit issued to a bona fide nonprofit organization. The ABC alleged that by posting or tweeting about the event, the suppliers were giving a thing of value to the retailer, a practice that has long been considered a violation of California’s tied house restrictions.
California law has long permitted supplier licensees to sponsor nonprofit events if the nonprofit gets an event license, and the new law does not fundamentally change that. However, the new section clarifies that a supplier may advertise sponsorship or participation in such events even if a retailer is also a named sponsor of the event. Payments or other consideration to the retailer are still considered a thing of value, and are not allowed, but social media postings no longer fall under that broad category. There are restrictions on what the supplier is permitted to post about the retailer; posts cannot contain the retail price of alcoholic beverages and cannot promote or advertise for the retail licensee beyond mentioning sponsorship or participation in the event. The supplier can share a retailer’s advertisement for the event on social media, but the supplier is not permitted to pay or reimburse the retailer for any advertisement and cannot demand exclusivity of its products at the event. In short, the new section will allow exactly the type of supplier social media support that occurred in the Save Mart Grape Escape situation.
January 07, 2015
In December 2014, the California ABC posted a new Industry Advisory about merchandising services. Free services provided by suppliers to retail licensees, such as stocking shelves, pricing inventory, rotating stock, etc., are prohibited things-of-value under California Business & Professions Code sections 25500 and 25502. However, a number of permitted exceptions are separately provided for in Section 25503.2. The Advisory was posted in response to inquiries and complaints about the scope of permissible activity. When ABC receives multiple complaints about impermissible conduct, investigations and license accusations may well follow, so it would be prudent for suppliers to review the scope of permissible merchandising activities.
Permitted activity varies depending on the type of retailer and the products involved so we created a simple chart below to help keep it straight.
Note that in all cases, any merchandising activities can only be done with the retailer’s permission. In no case can a supplier move the inventory of another supplier, except for “incidental touching” to access the space allocated to the licensee providing the merchandising service.
Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved ·
May 12, 2011
Apparently, the TTB doesn’t agree that “anything goes” in Vegas. Just ask Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Moet Hennessey, Bacardi, Future Brands, and E. & J. Gallo Winery. According to the TTB, these companies allegedly violated the FAA’s tied-house “slotting fee” restrictions. A slotting fee has nothing to do with slot machines (good guess), but instead is anything of value a supplier provides to a retailer in exchange for favorable product placement. The TTB’s allegations included “that the companies collectively furnished nearly $2 million in inducements” with the purpose “to obtain preferential product display and shelf space (also known as slotting fees) at Harrah’s Hotels and Casinos.” In an industry guidance circular released shortly before the announcement of the offers in compromise, the TTB reminded industry members that while providing promotional items etc. to retailers might be legal in some contexts, doing so as an inducement for better product placement was a violation of FAA tied-house laws in general and slotting fee prohibitions specifically (at least when the elements of interstate commerce, exclusion of other brands, and, in the case of malt beverages, similar state law are present).
Under the terms of the offers in compromise, none of the companies admitted to any wrongdoing and collectively paid out $1.9 million in fines - the largest set of offers in compromise ever accepted by TTB for trade practice violations. Jackpot.
The TTB’s recent guidance on tied-house rules and slotting fees can be found here: http://www.ttb.gov/trade_practices/ttb-g-2011-3-tied-house-guidance.pdf
The TTB’s announcement and details of the offers in compromise can be found here: http://www.ttb.gov/press/fy11/press-release-fy-11-4-faa-oic.pdf
Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2011 · All Rights Reserved ·
March 07, 2011
As we mentioned last Monday, the Supreme Court was toying with the decision to grant certiorari to Wine Country Gift Baskets.com, et. al., v. John T. Steen Jr., et. al., a case that dealt with Commerce Clause and Twenty-First Amendment issues as they pertain to wine retailers inside and outside the state of Texas. The Supreme Court Justices took the case to conference three times and today finally issued their order denying certiorari. No reasoning for the certiorari denial was given, although such explanations by the Court are often not provided. This means that the Fifth Circuit decision, which upheld Texas’ law prohibiting out-of-state wine retailers from shipping wine directly to Texas consumers while allowing in-state wine retailers to ship wine directly to Texas consumers, will remain the final decision on the case. If you are interested in reading the Fifth Circuit’s opinion for the case, it can be found here.
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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