ALCOHOL LAW ADVISOR
ALCOHOL LAW ADVISOR
Regulatory and Distribution Law Updates for the Alcohol Industry
ALCOHOL LAW ADVISOR
Regulatory and Distribution Law Updates for the Alcohol Industry
Trade Practices
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TTB Relaxes Consignment Sale Restrictions in Wake of Coronavirus Cancellations

On Friday, March 13, 2019, in the wake of growing concerns and related mass cancellations of large events all across the United States, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced that it is relaxing federal restrictions on alcoholic beverage returns that might otherwise violate prohibitions associated with consignment sales. As a refresher, the Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA) Act 27 C.F.R., Part 11, Subpart D, and more specifically 27 C.F.R. § 11.31, provides that “it is unlawful to sell, offer to sell, or contract to sell products with the privilege of return for any reason, other than those considered to be ‘ordinary and usual commercial reasons’ arising after the product has been sold.” Sections 11.32 through 11.39 provide those circumstances that are considered “ordinary and usual commercial reasons” under the FAA, including: Defective products Discrepancies between the products ordered and delivered Products that may no...

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Eighth Circuit Strikes Down Multiple Missouri Alcohol Beverage Advertising Laws

In another blow to the constitutionality of alcohol beverage laws, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit struck down on First Amendment grounds a number of Missouri’s alcohol beverage advertising laws on the basis that Missouri failed to meets it burden to demonstrate that such laws both advanced the state’s substantial interest and were narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. At issue in Missouri Broadcasters Ass’n v. Schmitt were familiar alcohol advertising laws that restricted: Suppliers and distributors for advertising at retail on tied house grounds (e., advertising qualified as a “financial interest” in the retailer); Retailers from advertising discounted prices outside of their establishments; and Retailers from advertising below-cost alcohol inside their establishments. In applying the four factor test articulated by the US Supreme Court in Central Hudson to assess the validity of governmental regulation of commercial speech, the Court...

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Craft Beer Mergers and Acquisitions

Over the past several months, 15 notable deals have taken place in the craft beer space, continuing a trend toward consolidation in the industry. While the terms of most transactions remain undisclosed, the deals generally fall into three buckets: Strategic deals designed to combine leading brands and brewers and leverage distribution capacity; Targeted asset acquisitions designed primarily to expand brewing capacity; and Restructuring transactions. McDermott’s Marc Sorini, Thomas Conaghan and Daniel McGuire walk through notable strategic deals, asset/capacity purchases and restructurings. Access the full article. Originally published in The New Brewer, November/December 2019.

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2nd Circ. Tussle Distills Court Divide on Booze Laws

Sharp disagreements in the Second Circuit over whether a Connecticut liquor law runs afoul of antitrust law, recently exposed in a bitter dissent, highlight a circuit split that some experts predict will be taken up by the US Supreme Court. A three-judge panel upheld the law in February by batting down a retailer's challenge to three parts of Connecticut's liquor sales law, including a controversial "post and hold" provision that lets wholesalers match each other's prices. The panel rejected the retailers' claim that the provision forced wholesalers into illegal price-fixing deals. "There is a split, and it's an important area," said Raymond Jacobsen Jr., McDermott partner, backing the retailer's view that the "post and hold" requirement creates a clear state-sanctioned violation of the Sherman Act. He said he believes it's a question that will intrigue the justices. Access the full article. Originally published on Law360, September 2019.

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Implications of the Supreme Court’s Tennessee Retailers Decision

As virtually everyone in the US alcohol beverage industry knows, last week the US Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Assn. v. Thomas, S.Ct. No. 18-96 (June 26, 2019). Now that over a week has passed since the release of that decision, it’s time to reflect on what it means and what is coming next.  1. Background Tennessee law imposes a two-year durational residency requirement on applicants for a license to operate a retail liquor store. (Two additional provisions struck by the lower courts—one ostensibly requiring 10 years of residency to renew a license and the other mandating that every shareholder of a corporate applicant be a Tennessee resident—were not defended by any party and therefore not at issue in the Supreme Court.) Two applicants that did not meet the residency requirements, one an affiliate of US retail giant Total Wine, sought licensing. The trade group for Tennessee’s liquor retailers, the Tennessee...

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Winds of Change Blowing for Craft Brewers

For those who follow developments in the law and craft brewing with equal passion, every year has its share of substantial issues. This year has been no exception, with a pending Supreme Court case; a substantial upswing in federal trade practice enforcement activity; a massive rewrite of US Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) labeling and advertising regulations; and prospects for extending the biggest cuts in the excise tax on beer since the repeal of Prohibition. As these developments play out over the next year, we may see changes translate into the marketplace. Find out what you can expect. Access the full article. Originally published in The New Brewer, May/June 2019.

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TTB Spring 2019 Updates to Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda

The spring edition of the federal government’s semi-annual Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (Regulatory Agenda) has been published. Like other federal agencies, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) uses the Regulatory Agenda to report on its current rulemaking projects. The Regulatory Agenda provides glimpses into TTB’s policy focus and aspirations. But, readers should recognize that TTB rulemaking moves very slowly, and the Agency often does not meet the aspirational dates published in the Regulatory Agenda.  The updated Regulatory Agenda lists the following projects of interest: Wines, Distilled Spirits and Malt Beverages In terms of importance, the list must begin with TTB Notice 176—the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to “modernize” the labeling and advertising regulations applicable to all three commodities. Comments on Notice 176 are due on or before June 26, 2019. Three separate entries continue to...

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District Court Decision Rejects Commerce Clause Challenge to Missouri’s Retailer Wine Shipping Laws

On Friday, March 29, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri handed down its decision in Sarasota Wine Market v. Parson, No. 4:17CV2792. The decision upholds Missouri’s laws permitting in-state retailers to sell and deliver directly to consumers’ homes, but withholding that same privilege to out-of-state retailers. Plaintiffs had challenged the Missouri statutes under both the so-called “dormant” Commerce Clause and the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Federal Constitution. The decision is not surprising, as Missouri lies within the jurisdiction of the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The Eighth Circuit, in a challenge to a residency requirement in a case entitled Southern Wine & Spirits v. Division of Alc. & Tobacco Control (2013), previously held that state laws regulating retailers and wholesalers are immune from dormant Commerce Clause scrutiny under the 21st Amendment. The Sarasota Wine Market decision relies...

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Massachusetts’ Highest Court Upholds Record Fine Against Beer Distributor for Pay-To-Play Scheme But Overturns Fine for Bar that Accepted Kickbacks

Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld a $2.6 million fine against beer wholesaler Craft Brewers Guild (a Sheehan family-owned company) for violating anti-price discrimination statutes and commercial bribery regulations. In the same decision, the Court overturned a fine lodged against a bar that received such kickback payments, holding that Massachusetts retailers do not violate commercial bribery regulations by accepting kickback payments. Beginning in 2013, Craft Beer Guild, LLC d/b/a Craft Brewers Guild (CBG), a licensed wholesaler, implemented a “pay-to-play” scheme involving alcohol beverage suppliers, retailers, and various management and marketing companies associated with licensed retailers. CBG paid “rebates” to these third-party companies in exchange for their associated retailers agreeing to sell CBG products at their bars and restaurants. To hide these unlawful payments to retailers, the third-party companies billed CBG for...

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Second Circuit Rejects Total Wine Challenge of Connecticut Pricing Laws

Last week, in Connecticut Fine Wine and Spirits LLC v. Seagull, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a lower court’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit from Total Wine & More challenging parts of Connecticut’s Liquor Control Act and related regulations. Though the decision represents a victory for state alcohol regulatory regimes, the Second Circuit’s ruling was decided on the basis of established antitrust law and did not raise or rely on state regulatory authority under the 21st Amendment. Nonetheless, state alcoholic beverages regulators will embrace the court’s ruling. In Connecticut Fine Wine, Total Wine challenged three sets of provisions in Connecticut’s alcohol laws. First, Total Wine challenged “post-and-hold” provisions. Under the post-and-hold provisions, state-licensed wholesalers are required to post a “bottle price” and “case price” each month with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. Those prices are then made...

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