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.
Recent cases offer lessons for brewers navigating the often-tricky obstacles surrounding the selection, use and enforcement of trademarks. Whether a brewery is choosing a logo or naming a new beer, the latest decisions highlighted in this article underscore the importance of doing due diligence when it comes to trademarks.
Originally published in The New Brewer, September/October 2019.
On March 18, 2019, the Washington Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s decision that three advertising campaigns for 5-Hour Energy® made by Living Essentials, LLP and Innovative Ventures, LLP (collectively, Living Essentials) violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA) by making deceptive advertising claims.
Living Essentials makes and markets the energy drink 5-Hour Energy®. The three advertising claims at issue involve claims about the efficacy of the drink. Living Essentials claimed or implied that: (1) 5-Hour Energy® was “Superior to Coffee” (Superior to Coffee claim); (2) decaf 5-Hour Energy® was effective “for hours” (Decaf claim); and (3) 73 percent of doctors would recommend 5-Hour Energy® (Ask Your Doctor claim). The trial court found all three advertising claims in violation of the CPA. It also assessed a civil penalty against Living Essentials of $2,183,747 and awarded the State $1,886,866.71 in attorney fees and $209,125.92 in costs. The court of appeals affirmed.
Living Essentials argued on appeal that the trial court (1) erred by adopting the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) prior substantiation doctrine; (2) that the prior substantiation doctrine violates article I, section 5 of the Washington State Constitution and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; (3) that Living Essentials’ claims were mere puffery which did not require substantiation; (4) the trial court applied the wrong standard for necessary substantiation; and (5) the trial court erred in concluding that Living Essentials’ Ask Your Doctor claim was deceptive. Living Essentials also challenged the trial court’s penalty and award of attorney fees. (more…)
During the Wine, Beer & Spirits Law Conference, Marc Sorini discussed recent legal developments in federal and state trade practice law. He provides a background for each and explores recent and pending investigations.
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.
Latest Stage in Missouri Tied House First Amendment Litigation Could Change Economics of Industry Advertising
The latest development in a lengthy legal challenge to advertising restrictions in Missouri’s tied house laws and regulations raises practical economic issues for the alcohol beverage industry and significant legal and policy issues for legislators and regulators at all levels of government. On June 28, Judge Douglas Harpool of the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri filed a decision in Missouri Broadcasters Association vs. Dorothy Taylor. The Missouri Broadcasters Association (MBA) is a trade association representing media outlets. Two licensed Missouri retailers were also plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Ms. Dorothy Taylor is the Supervisor of the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (DATC).
The basic issue in the case is whether several Missouri alcohol beverage advertising restrictions violate the plaintiffs’ commercial speech rights protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
The June District Court decision follows a bench trial held in February 2018. The trial occurred as the result of prior legal proceedings culminating in a 2017 decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which found that the MBA’s amended complaint “plausibly demonstrates that the challenged provisions [of Missouri’s tied house law] do not directly advance the government’s asserted substantial interest, are more extensive than necessary and unconstitutionally compel speech and association.”
Perhaps the most important Missouri law challenged in this litigation is an exception in the tied house laws that authorizes a manufacturer to pay for advertising that lists “two or more affiliated retail businesses selling its products” subject to four conditions:
(a) The advertisement shall not contain the retail price of the product;
(b) The listing of the retail businesses shall be the only reference to such retail businesses in the advertisement;
(c) The listing of the retail businesses shall be relatively inconspicuous in relation to the advertisement as a whole; and
(d) The advertisement shall not refer only to one retail business or only to a retail business controlled directly or indirectly by the same retail business.
This language may be familiar to many practitioners and regulators as a nearly identical provision appears in the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) tied house regulations. Laws and regulations of several states include similar express exceptions and TTB regulations are incorporated by reference in the trade practices regulations of other states. Innumerable TTB and state tied house laws and regulations restrict advertising in similar ways and may be invalidated if the analysis in Missouri Broadcasters is applied by other courts and ultimately upheld by federal appellate courts.
Other Missouri laws and regulations that were successfully challenged by MBA in the trial court prohibit (a) media advertising of price discounts, (b) beer and wine coupons, (c) outdoor advertising of discounts by retailers and (d) below cost advertising.
Unlike many cases based solely on theoretical legal arguments and the text of laws and regulations, the trial in the Missouri case resulted in [...]
On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Matal v. Tam, declaring the Trademark Act’s (commonly referred to as the “Lanham Act”) “disparagement clause” unconstitutional as a violation of the free speech principles embodied in the First Amendment. If the case name doesn’t ring a bell, the players involved might. The decision was the culmination of Simon Shiao Tams’ fight to obtain a federal trademark registration for “THE SLANTS” for use in connection with his rock band. The term “Slants” can be used as a racially pejorative word for persons of Asian descent and was selected by the Asian-American band in an effort to “reclaim” the derogatory term. Tam’s win at the Supreme Court, however, wasn’t only a victory for his band. The Washington Redskins, who are also engaged in a protracted legal battle to maintain their trademark registrations despite challenge from a Native American group, hailed the decision a success. The Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, simply stated: “I am THRILLED.”
On Friday, October 13, 2017, a Texas Court of Appeals handed down the long-awaited decision in Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission v. Mark Anthony Brewing, Inc., No. 03-16-00039-CV.
The case involves Texas’ ban on private-label malt beverage/beer labels, which appear in regulations that are one aspect of the state’s comprehensive tied-house laws. Mark Anthony Brewing sought a declaratory ruling on those Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) regulations after the TABC refused to approve the labels for Mark Anthony’s T.G.I. Friday’s branded flavored malt beverages. T.G.I. Friday’s is also, of course, a well-known retail chain. Mark Anthony produces the T.G.I. Friday’s line under a trademark license from the retailer, as governed by a trademark licensing agreement between the parties.
A Texas trial court ruled in favor of Mark Anthony, holding that the TABC regulations in question violate the First Amendment. The trial court further ruled that Mark Anthony’s sales of the product and the licensing agreement between Mark Anthony and T.G.I. Friday’s either did not violate Texas’ tied-house prohibitions or, in the alternative, those prohibitions were unconstitutional as applied to Mark Anthony’s sales and the parties’ agreement. (more…)
Yesterday, the en banc (full) Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued the attached opinion in the case of Retail Digital Network v. Prieto, No. 13-56069.
As you may recall, the Retail Digital Network case concerns the legality of sections of California’s tied-house laws, California Business and Professions Code Section 25503(f)-(h), which prohibit manufacturers and wholesalers (and their agents) from giving anything of value to retailers in exchange for advertising their products. Retail Digital Network (RDN), which installs advertising displays in retail stores and contracts with parties to advertise their products on the displays, sought a declaratory judgment that Section 25503(f)-(h) violated the First Amendment after RDN’s attempts to contract with alcohol manufacturers failed due to the manufacturers’ concerns that such advertising would violate these tied-house provisions.
The District Court found Section 25503(f)-(h) constitutional under a Ninth Circuit case from 1986, Actmedia, Inc. v. Stroh, in which the court upheld Section 25503(h). Then in January 2016, a panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Actmedia is “clearly irreconcilable” with the Supreme Court’s 2011 opinion in Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. The panel accordingly would have remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings under Sorrell’s allegedly more restrictive First Amendment standard. But the state requested an en banc (full court) rehearing, which the court granted.
Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit weighed in on the legality of restrictions on alcohol advertising under the First Amendment, issuing an opinion in Missouri Broadcasters Association v. Lacy that could eventually broaden free speech protections for alcohol beverage advertisements. After the lower court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss and plaintiffs appealed, the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal, finding that plaintiffs’ claim alleging the unconstitutionality of a Missouri statute and two regulations should be heard.
The case concerned three Missouri provisions – two regulations and a statute – that restrict the advertising of alcohol beverages:
- a regulation prohibiting retailers from advertising price discounts outside of the licensed premises (but allowing the advertising of discounts by using generic descriptions (e.g., “Happy Hour”), as well as the advertising of specific discounts within the licensed premises);
- a regulation prohibiting retailers from advertising prices below cost; and
- a statute requiring manufacturers and wholesalers choosing to a list a retailer in an advertisement to exclude the retail price of the product from the advertisement, list multiple unaffiliated retailers and make the listing relatively inconspicuous.
Plaintiffs – a broadcasting industry group, radio station operator, winery and retailer – sued Missouri’s supervisor of liquor control and attorney general, alleging that the three provisions are facially invalid under the First Amendment in that they prohibit truthful, non-misleading commercial speech, are inconsistently enforced by the state and the challenged statute unconstitutionally compels speech.
To state a claim that a statute is facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment, Supreme Court precedent instructs that plaintiffs must show that there are no set of circumstances under which the challenged provision would be valid, or that a substantial number of the provision’s applications are unconstitutional. Alcohol beverage advertisements involve commercial speech, which receives less protection under the First Amendment than other constitutionally protected forms of expression. In Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Comm’n of New York (1980), the Supreme Court articulated a four-part test for determining the constitutionality of laws restricting commercial speech: whether (1) the speech concerns lawful activity and is not misleading; (2) the governmental interest justifying the regulation is substantial; (3) the regulation directly advances the governmental interest; and (4) the regulation is no broader than necessary to further the governmental interest.
Applying the third and fourth factors of the Central Hudson test (plaintiffs and defendants agreed on the first two factors of the test), the court found that the facts plaintiffs alleged were “more than sufficient” to state a plausible claim. First, the court opined, plaintiffs made sufficient allegations that the challenged provisions do not directly advance Missouri’s substantial interest in promoting responsible drinking. Although defendants argued that a link exists between advertising promotions and increased demand for alcohol beverages, the court noted that “multiple” inconsistencies in the regulations demonstrate that the regulations do not advance Missouri’s interest in promoting responsible drinking. Likewise, the court determined, plaintiffs pled sufficient facts to support [...]