Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

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. Continue Reading Texas Court of Appeals Reverses T.G.I. Friday’s Label Decision

Late last month, the Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling in Cadena Comercial USA Corp. d/b/a OXXO v. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, finding in favor of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) and weighing in for the first time on the application of Texas’ tied house law. In a 6-2 decision, the court upheld the TABC’s denial of a retail permit to a foreign corporation whose parent company also holds a 20 percent ownership interest in a foreign brewer.

Fomento Económico Mexicano, S.A.B. de C.V. (FEMSA) holds both a 20 percent interest in the stock of two Heineken entities, as well as–through intermediate holding companies–100 percent of the ownership of Cadena Comercial USA Corp. (Cadena), a company that operates convenience stores. In 2011, Cadena sought licensing as a beer and wine retailer in Texas.  During the license application process, the TABC discovered FEMSA’s ownership of Cadena and interest in Heineken and rejected Cadena’s permit application on tied house grounds. Texas’ alcohol beverage laws define “tied house” as prohibiting any overlapping cross-tier ownership interest.

Upon the denial of its permit application, Cadena requested and received an administrative hearing before a county judge. At the hearing, the TABC’s director of licensing testified that that the TABC would consider even one overlapping share of stock across tiers to violate Texas’ tied house laws. (This principle is referred to as the “One Share Rule.”) The judge denied Cadena’s retail permit application, finding that because of Cadena’s interests in a brewer/manufacturer, issuance of the permit would violate the tied house laws. On appeal, both the district court and the court of appeals affirmed the denial of the permit.

Continue Reading Texas Supreme Court Weighs In on Tied House

Last week, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (“TABC”) circulated a draft amendment of Texas’ name and address labeling regulation for “malt beverages” (beer).  A copy of the proposed amended regulation (with a redline of the changes) is can be found here.

Consistent with TTB regulations on name and address labeling for malt beverages, the current regulation requires only the name and address of the importer, with foreign producer information optional.  The revised regulation, in contrast, requires:

  • On labels of containers of imported malt beverages, the name and principal place of business of the foreign manufacturer, bottler or shipper must be stated

The proposed regulation accordingly marks a significant Texas departure from federal labeling rules.  First, it requires foreign producer information on the label.  Second, it requires the label to show the name and principal place of business address of the foreign producer.  This could require substantial changes to the labels of malt beverages sold in Texas.

The TABC is scheduled to hold a hearing in Austin on its proposed new regulation on Friday, March 10, 2017.

Late last week, a district judge in Texas declared unconstitutional under the Texas Constitution a provision of the state’s Beer Industry Fair Dealing Law (i.e., the beer “franchise” law) that expressly prohibits a brewer from accepting a payment in exchange for a grant of territorial distribution rights.  Section 102.75(a)(7) of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, enacted in 2013, applies generally to “manufacturers,” including both in-state brewers and out-of-state brewers holding nonresident manufacturer’s licenses in Texas.  In 2014, three small Texas brewers – Live Oak Brewing Company, Revolver Brewing and Peticolas Brewing Company – sued the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) and its executive director, Sherry Cook, arguing that Section 102.75(a)(7) violates the Texas Constitution.

In a short summary order, the district court judge agreed.  The court found that Section 102.75(a)(7) violates the Texas Constitution’s “Due Course of Law” provision, Texas’ analog to the US Constitution’s Due Process Clause, which states that a Texas citizen may not “be deprived of life, liberty, property, privileges or immunities, or in any manner disfranchised, except by the due course of the law of the land.”  Tex. Const. Art. I, § 19.

The court granted the plaintiff breweries’ motion for summary judgment on their Due Course of Law argument and enjoined the TABC and Ms. Cook (and their respective employees, agents and successors) from enforcing Section 102.75(a)(7) against the plaintiffs and any other brewers.  The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim that Section 102.75(a)(7) amounted to a taking of private property in violation of the Texas Constitution, though, and also dismissed the plaintiffs’ request for attorney’s fees.

Although the judge’s order did not contain any detail regarding her reasoning, the case restores an important opportunity for brewers distributing – or interested in distributing – beer in Texas.  Further, although the TABC may appeal, the decision should remind state legislatures that state restrictions on the conduct of private parties in the alcohol industry in the name of protecting the three-tier system must still pass muster under federal and state constitutional principles.

On April 21, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit handed down its opinion in Cooper v. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, No. 14-51343.  It provides further guidance, at least within the Fifth Circuit, on the interplay of the “dormant” Commerce Clause and the 21st Amendment following the Supreme Court of the United States’ oft-cited decision in Granholm v. Heald, 544 US 460 (2005).

The case arose when the Texas Package Store Association attempted to revisit the Fifth Circuit’s two-decade old decision in Cooper v. McBeath, 11 F.3d 547 (5th Cir. 1994).  Cooper v. McBeath permanently enjoined the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) from enforcing certain residency requirements imposed on wholesalers and retailers by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code.  In that decision, the Fifth Circuit decided that the residency requirement was a protectionist measure and therefore unconstitutional under the so-called “dormant” Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.

In 2014, the Texas Package Store Association (TPSA) moved for relief from the Cooper v. McBeath injunction, arguing that Granholm and its progeny undermined the earlier decision’s reasoning.  The district court ruled that the TPSA lacked standing to seek relief, although it also suggested that TPSA’s motion for relief should be denied on the merits.

In last month’s Cooper v. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission decision, the Fifth Circuit concluded that TPSA had standing to seek relief from the Cooper v. McBeath injunction, but then held that TPSA’s motion should be denied on the merits.  Laying out the standard for relief as whether Granholm and its progeny represent a “significant change in decisional law,” the Fifth Circuit concluded that no significant change had occurred.

The Fifth Circuit begins its analysis by noting that Granholm expressly refused to overrule prior cases holding that the Commerce Clause qualified states’ rights under the 21st Amendment.  TPSA argued that the statement in Granholm labeling the three-tier system “unquestionably legitimate” essentially removed Commerce Clause protections from state laws dealing with the wholesale and retail tiers of the industry.  Characterizing that language in Granholm as “dictum,” the Fifth Circuit rejected TPSA’s argument as “unconvincing.”  Refusing to follow an Eighth Circuit decision that embraced logic similar to the argument advanced by TPSA, the Fifth Circuit instead relied on its own decision in Wine Country Gift Baskets.com v. Steen, 612 F.3d 809 (5th Cir. 2010).  Thus “state regulations of the retailer and wholesaler tiers are not immune from Commerce Clause scrutiny just because they do not discriminate against out-of-state liquor.”  Instead, although the 21st Amendment permits a state to impose a physical-residency requirement that may favor in-state businesses, it may not impose “a durational-residency requirement on the owners of alcoholic beverage retailers and wholesalers.”  (Quoting Cooper v. McBeath, emphasis in original).

The Fifth Circuit accordingly reasoned that nothing in Granholm and its subsequent application represent a significant change in the law.  It therefore reversed the decision of the district court and directed it to enter an order denying on the merits TPSA’s motion for relief.

Cooper v. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission represents yet another wrinkle in the federal courts’ ongoing struggle to reconcile the holding of Granholm (a state cannot discriminate between the shipping rights of out-of-state versus in-state wineries) with its dictum that the three-tier system is “unquestionably legitimate.”  By drawing a previously unrecognized distinction between “physical-residency” and “durational-residency” requirements and, perhaps, distinctions based on business location versus owner location, the Fifth Circuit also has introduced significantly more complexity and nuance into the Commerce Clause/21st Amendment analysis.

We expect that the Supreme Court will eventually address this subject again to reconcile what is now a clear “circuit split” between the Fifth and Eighth Circuits.  But the Court will likely allow the issue to further “percolate” in the lower courts, as the case law in this area remains quite new.  We also wonder whether litigants seeking to narrow Granholm, who have scored a number of significant “wins” in the Second, Fifth (Steen) and Eighth Circuits in the decade since Granholm, will put those decisions in jeopardy by seeking Supreme Court review of the Cooper v. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission decision.

In Part 2 of this series, we highlighted recent developments in federal regulation and oversight of alcohol beverage advertising with implications for digital media.  State alcohol and consumer protection laws also apply and can make regional or national ad campaigns challenging.

An overarching concern to state officials is the potential appeal of alcohol beverage advertising to persons below the legal drinking age.  In the digital space state attorneys general and regulators quickly responded to the advent of social media and asserted authority to prevent dissemination of inappropriate advertising content to children.  Attorneys general signed consent agreements on alcohol and tobacco advertising with Facebook, MySpace and several other social networks in 2008.  As a result, the networks developed technology to limit access to alcohol advertising content to registered users over the age of 21.  Advertisers must ensure that they set up their social network pages properly so that the technology limiting access to alcohol ads is functioning.

The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants states a degree of unique authority over alcohol beverages that does not apply to most other consumer products.  In advertising, that authority has been somewhat eroded by the First Amendment’s commercial speech doctrine and other case law, but most states continue to actively regulate the source of funds used to pay for advertising based on older legal concepts designed to protect the independence of retailers from domination by manufacturers.  In the post-Prohibition period, officials feared that large brewers and distillers would dominate local grocery stores, bars and other retailers, most of which were then “mom and pop” operations.

While the retail sector has changed dramatically, many state laws still contain restrictions on advertising or promotional activities by manufacturers that benefit specific retailers.  Recent examples of these trends are found in changes in Texas law effective September 1, 2013 that have significant implications for regional and local advertising via digital media in a large and diverse state.

In response to a 2011 court decision (Authentic Beverages Company, Inc. v. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission), the Texas Legislature repealed longstanding advertising restrictions and authorized prearrangement and preannouncement of promotional activities to be held on a retailer’s premises.  Texas law now permits manufacturers and wholesalers to utilize digital media to inform consumers of the identity and location of retailers where their products are available.  Restrictions apply to payments or reimbursements to retailers for the cost of an alcohol beverage ad.  Finally the Texas Legislature repealed a prohibition on advertisements that refer to the alcohol content of beer as well as a requirement to label malt beverages as “beer” or “ale” based on the alcohol content even where that designation (from an industry understanding) was inaccurate.  Those types of archaic restrictions made it difficult to run national or regional digital advertising campaigns without technical violations of Texas law.

While you can now use factual statements about product availability and attributes in digital and other media in Texas, many analogous state restrictions remain on the books.

On June 11, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) issued a Marketing Practices Advisory (MPA 055) clarifying the volume that a winery can legally ship directly to Texas consumers in a single year.  The limit is 35,000 gallons and the calculation must include the total volume shipped over a calendar year.

The recent TABC Advisory builds on a 2012 TABC Licensing Bulletin (LIC001) that outlined the required permit and process for wineries authorized to make direct shipments.  It also noted that Texas package stores are authorized to deliver wine directly to 15 million Texas residents of legal drinking age.  A stern warning appears at the end of the bulletin that unauthorized shipments would be actionable by the TABC.

A strong record of voluntary compliance will help preserve and expand e-commerce privileges for industry suppliers.