In late September 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari (i.e. the Court agreed to hear a case) brought before the Court by the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association (Tennessee Retailers) in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Byrd. The petition requested that the Court review the lower court’s decision upholding a finding that Tennessee’s two-year residency requirement for retail license applicants is unconstitutional. Specifically, the question Tennessee Retailers posed to the Court is whether the 21st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives states that authority to, consistent with the so-called “dormant” Commerce Clause of the Constitution, regulate sales of alcohol beverages by imposing residency requirements on retail (or wholesale) license applicants.

In this article, Mar Sorini and Bethany Hatef discuss the legal background of the dormant Commerce Clause, as well as the Byrd case. Particularly, they examined the Sixth Circuit’s opinion in February 2018 which affirmed the district court decision that invalidated Tennessee’s residency requirements, held that “a three-tier system can still function” without the two-year durational residency restriction imposed by the state. This article examines the potential impacts of Byrd, and how the Supreme Court’s review will address the constitutional validity of the Tennessee law imposing residency requirements on retail alcohol beverage license applicants.

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Originally published in Artisan Spirit: Winter 2018.

As you likely have read in the trade press already, on Wednesday, November 28, 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued its opinion in Lebamoff v. Rauner. The opinion adds three judges of the Seventh Circuit to the collection of legal minds rejecting the notion that the dormant Commerce Clause non-discrimination principles applied by the Supreme Court in Bacchus (1984) and Granholm (2005) should be limited to laws discriminating against producers and products.

Like other cases brought by Lebamoff and its legal team, this case involves a challenge to state laws that prohibit direct-to-consumer wine shipments by out-of-state retailers. Illinois, like many states, permits in-state retailers to deliver wine directly to Illinois consumers located anywhere in the state. The law, however, denies that same privilege to out-of-state retailers. This distinction, according to the plaintiffs, amounts to discrimination against out-of-state economic interests in violation of the Constitution’s dormant Commerce Clause.

The Seventh Circuit opinion rejects the reading of Granholm, embraced by the Second and Eighth Circuits, that the Supreme Court drew an implicit distinction between laws discriminating against producers and products (not permitted) and laws affecting the wholesale- or retail-tiers (immune from Commerce Clause scrutiny). Reading Granholm in its totality, the Seventh Circuit finds such an implied bright-line rule unlikely. Moreover, drawing on the Brown-Forman (1986) and Healy (1989) cases, the Seventh Circuit notes that prior Supreme Court opinions have applied dormant Commerce Clause principles to laws that did not regulate producers or products.

The Seventh Circuit, of course, recognized that its opinion could be substantially affected by the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Ass’n v. Byrd case now pending before the Supreme Court. Moreover, the Seventh Circuit’s discussion of issues upon remand suggests a number of potential distinguishing facts that could alter the outcome of the case. Nevertheless, should the Supreme Court affirm the Sixth Circuit’s Byrd decision, the state of Illinois will have a hard time defending the discriminatory treatment challenged in Lebamoff.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a new regulation that would require food manufacturers to disclose information about bioengineered (BE) food and BE food ingredients. The proposed rule is the result of a 2016 law that required the USDA to establish a National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard for all food. For purposes of the BE disclosure law, “food” includes alcohol beverages intended for human consumption as well as non-alcohol beverages.

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Originally published in The New Brewer, November/December 2018.

Earlier this week, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued further guidance on the procedures for importers to take the lower tax rates and credits available under the Craft Beverage Modernization Act (CBMA).

Key points of the new guidance:

  1. CBP will process drawback claims on an oldest-entry-first basis.
  2. Failure to substantiate drawback claims by January 31, 2019, risks a loss of the CBMA rates/credits for the entries in question.
  3. Going forward, every entry seeking to claim CBMA rates/credits must be accompanied by a CBMA Spreadsheet based on a template provided by CBP.
  4. Each importer must also submit a Controlled Group Spreadsheet, based on a template provided by CBP, for each controlled group it belongs to (foreign producers have the option of providing this information directly to CBP). Importers are responsible for immediately reporting to CBP any changes to the information in the Controlled Group Spreadsheet.
  5. Each foreign producer must provide their importer or CBP with an Assignment Certification based on a template provided by CBP.

With this guidance, importers can now start benefiting from the CBMA lower rates and credits on entries going forward, and make drawback claims for imports entered since January 1, 2018.

On September 18, 2018, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued TTB Industry Guidance 2018-10, a webpage consisting of questions and answers related to formulas. According to TTB, this new guidance “essentially replaces” Industry Circular 2007-4, which provided the framework for pre-COLA product evaluations. TTB has removed Industry Circular 2007-4 from its website.

The release of Industry Guidance 2018-10 comes with troubling implications. TTB has essentially revoked an Industry Circular signed by TTB Administrator John Manfreda and replaced it with a series Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) with no clear authorship or authority. Furthermore, they have deleted Industry Circular 2007-4, preventing industry members from reviewing how these FAQs differ or alter the previous method for determining when formulas are required. Indeed, TTB seems to be significantly expanding the types of products that require formula approval. TTB notes in the new FAQs that “there may be circumstances when we will require a formula . . . even though the product does not generally require a formula.” See Industry Guidance 2018-10, FAB4.

TTB has recently required formulas for products, such as particular varieties of mezcal and spirits aged in previously used cooperage, where formulas were not previously required. It appears where no regulatory restrictions on aging (e.g., length of time or type of barrel) exists for a particular type/class of distilled spirits, TTB will more than likely request a formula approval prior to reviewing a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) application. Some products may not require a formula if the label text only specifies the type of barrel used for aging, i.e., “Aged in used bourbon barrels.” But if the label mentions any attribute the aging provides to the liquid (e.g., “notes of sweet corn” or “hints of charred wood”) then TTB will likely require a formula.

Although TTB previously made strides in increasing speeds in which COLAs and formulas were reviewed, these new requirements will increase the compliance workload and approval timelines for TTB as well as alcohol beverage industry members. In addition to the challenges created by increasing the number of products requiring formulas, more questions are likely to arise under the anonymous FAQs, which replaced the longstanding protocols in Industry Circular 2007-4.

During the International Wine Association’s 2018 Conference, Marc Sorini presented on the latest law developments, including the Commerce Clause and First Amendment.

The topic was made particularly timely by the Supreme Court’s September 27 decision to grant certiorari review of the Byrd v. Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association decision.

View the full presentation.

Last week Customs & Border Protection (CBP) issued additional guidance on the Craft Beverage Modernization Act (CBMA) rules for applying the CBMA lower excise tax rates (for beer and distilled spirits) and credits (for wine) to alcohol beverages imported from other countries.

The new guidance provides further clarity on the procedures required to make claims for drawback (refund) of taxes paid at the non-CBMA rate on product imported since the beginning of calendar 2018. It also indicates that CBP expects to provide additional guidance this month (October) on taking the lower rates and credits contemporaneously with importing additional product going forward. Among other things, CBP apparently will soon publish: (1) a Controlled Group Spreadsheet to track eligibility for the lower rates and credits; and (2) an Assignment Certification that foreign producers must execute and their importers must file in order to claim the CBMA lower rates and credits.

In short, if CBP can keep to its timetable, importers can begin claiming the lower CBMA rates and credits by the end of the month.

As beverage manufacturers mull the creation and distribution of cannabidiol (CBD)-infused products, the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) recent actions regarding an approved CBD drug merit exploration. CBD is one of many chemicals in the cannabis plant, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that CBD does not produce the same euphoric effect as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s psychoactive component.

In June, FDA approved the first drug comprised of an active ingredient (CBD) derived from marijuana, Epidiolex. FDA approved the CBD oral solution for patients two years of age and older who have seizures associated with two forms of severe epilepsy. According to DEA and FDA, the CBD in Epidiolex is extracted from the cannabis plant and is a purified drug substance. Though it is derived from the cannabis plant, the FDA-approved drug has no more than 0.1 percent residual THC.

Last week, DEA announced an order scheduling Epidiolex under the least restrictive schedule of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), schedule V. Notably, DEA still considers marijuana (which includes industrial hemp) and marijuana compounds other than Epidiolex to be schedule I controlled substances under the CSA. As a result, beverage manufacturers should carefully consider all legal implications prior to developing products that contain CBD. Continue Reading DEA Schedules a FDA-Approved CBD Drug

Craft distillers know the value of a good trademark. The name of a particular spirit, a logo, or a label design can be vitally important to a brand’s identity (and a distiller’s bottom line).  They also know how complicated—and legally fraught—branding can be. For better or worse, trademark disputes involving alcohol beverage products are becoming increasingly common. The disputes that make it to court provide valuable insight that could prevent future legal headaches surrounding the selection, protection, and enforcement of alcohol beverage trademarks.

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Originally published in Artisan Spirit: Fall 2018.