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
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Mississippi Supreme Court Rejects ‘Passage of Title’ DTC Theory

Last week, the Supreme Court of Mississippi handed down an opinion in Fitch v. Wine Express Inc., No. 2018-SA-01259-SCT. A state court decision on the rather dry subject of personal jurisdiction often merits little comment, but the Fitch opinion features an emphatic rejection of the legal theory relied upon by many direct-to-consumer retail alcohol sellers today. As a “control” state for wine sales, Mississippi law generally prohibits the importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages (a term that includes wine) outside of the state’s monopoly control system. And, as in virtually every state, the retail sale of wine to consumers is reserved to state licensees and, in the case of control jurisdictions, the state itself. In 2017, the state investigated online wine retailers. While most did not accept orders for shipment to a location in Mississippi, the state found three online retailers that accepted such orders. After further investigation, the...

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TTB Label Approval System Survives First Amendment Challenge from DC Brewery

I. Factual Background During the 34-day government shutdown occurring between December 2018 and January 2019, producers and importers of beer, wine and distilled spirits needing label approval to bring new products to market were forced to wait until the shutdown was resolved, when TTB could begin again to process COLA applications. The difficulties presented by this situation included the prospect of needing to destroy valuable, perishable inventory. Unable to obtain a COLA due to the shutdown, Atlas Brew Works (Atlas) filed suit in January in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the constitutionality of the COLA system. Atlas alleged that the requirement to obtain label approval violates the First Amendment, since, in the event of a government shutdown, the COLA requirement amounted to a prior restraint on protected speech. As the court explained in its opinion, Atlas’s argument boiled down to the claim that “a law that prohibits...

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TTB Publishes NPRMs to Repeal Standards of Fill for Wine and Distilled Spirits

On Monday, July 1, 2019, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published two eagerly anticipated notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRMs) to largely repeal the standards of fill for wine and distilled spirits containers. The highlights: In the preamble to both NPRMs, TTB advances a number of significant policy beliefs on the topic of standards of fill, including: Standards of fill are no longer needed to help protect the revenue and enforce the excise tax. Standards of fill are not critical to protecting consumers, because consumers can rely on mandatory net content statements on labels. The lack of any standards of fill for malt beverages has not created any revenue or consumer deception problems. For spirits, TTB proposes to eliminate all standards except for a minimum of 50 milliliters and a maximum of 3.785 liters (one gallon). The maximum reflects the Federal Alcohol Administration Act’s statutory maximum for distilled spirit containers. For...

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24th Annual Wine, Beer & Spirits Law Conference

On September 16–17, CLE International will host the 24rd Annual Wine, Beer & Spirits Law Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. Those attending will include the alcohol beverage industry’s leading practitioners, including in-house counsel for producers, distributors and retailers, as well as industry lawyers and state administrators. Conference topics include: Updates on TTB developments and trends An overview of recent developments in alcohol trade practice and trademark law The significance of regulatory compliance, and the state of data security and ownership Updates on the cannabis industry, including the latest legalization efforts and how it could affect the alcohol beverage industry McDermott partner Marc Sorini serves as co-chair for the event and will also present. Other McDermott presenters will be Michael Kimberly and Anthony DeMaio. Click here for the full agenda and registration information.

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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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Customs and Border Protection Interim Regulations for Refunds of Excise Taxes on Imported Beer, Wine and Spirits

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) expects to publish tomorrow Interim Regulations authorizing the refund of beer, wine, and spirits excise taxes in connection with the 2017 tax reform act’s reduced rates and credits. The Interim Regulations specify: Claims must be filed with the National Revenue Center of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Claims must be filed on TTB Form 5620.8. A separate claim is required for entries made at each US port or internal revenue region. The interim regulations will be effective on the date of publication (expected to be August 16, 2018). CBP also initiated a 60-day comment period that will provide interested parties with opportunities to raise questions or identify issues that are not addressed in the interim regulations. Please let us know if you have any questions about this development.

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Son of Granholm Inches Closer

Two recent developments reinforce my expectation that the Supreme Court will need to clarify the scope of its 2005 Granholm v. Heald decision within the next few years. Granholm struck down state restrictions on the interstate sale and shipment of wine by wineries, where the state permitted in-state wineries to engage in such direct-to-consumer sales activities but withheld that privilege from out-of-state wineries. According to that decision, such facially-discriminatory laws are virtually per se unconstitutional under the so-called “dormant” Commerce Clause, and are not saved by the additional power that states have over alcohol sales under the 21st Amendment. The Granholm court also referred to the three-tier system as “unquestionably legitimate.” In the years since Granholm, lower federal courts have wrestled with the question of whether or not the Commerce Clause’s non-discrimination principle is limited to state laws imposing different rules on in-state...

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TTB Issues Further Alcohol Excise Tax Guidance

On Friday, March 2, 2018, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued its next round of guidance concerning the alcohol excise tax provisions of the recently enacted tax law (Tax Act). TTB has not yet addressed some of the biggest ambiguities contained in the Tax Act, such as (i) how foreign producers can assign excise tax credits to US importers and (ii) how the “Single Taxpayer Rule” will work. Nevertheless, TTB continues to make incremental progress in interpreting the Tax Act. The March 2 guidance features the following: A new TTB Industry Circular, No. 2018-1 (March 2, 2018), announces the creation of a temporary “alternate procedure” (aka, variance) allowing wine producers to tax determine and tax pay wine of the winery’s own production stored untaxpaid at another bonded wine cellar as if the wine were removed from the producing winery’s bonded premises. Prior law allowed wineries eligible for tax credits under the small winery tax provisions...

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TTB Updates to the Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda

Last week in its regular newsletter, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced updates to the Fall edition of the semi-annual Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (Regulatory Agenda). Like other federal agencies, TTB uses the Regulatory Agenda to report on its current rulemaking projects. In the updated agenda, a few new items have been added, and many expected publication dates of Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRMs), Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRMs) and Final Rules have changed. As always, 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 The reform of TTB’s labeling and advertising regulations for all three commodities, on the Regulatory Agenda for years, now indicates that TTB...

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Excise Tax Relief for Breweries, Wineries and Distilleries

This post does not constitute tax advice. It summarizes changes in alcohol beverage excise tax laws to assist industry members in planning to implement the changes. Excise tax calculations and liability must be determined for each taxpayer based on numerous variables. The new tax law formerly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, provides a temporary reduction in alcohol beverage excise taxes for US brewers, winemakers, distillers and beverage importers. Temporary tax relief is available for beer, wine and spirits removed from a US manufacturing facility or released from Custom’s custody after January 1, 2018, and prior to December 31, 2019. Several provisions of the new law will require the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to quickly promulgate new regulations. The new law also modifies existing sections of federal excise tax laws so that commonly owned manufacturers and importers get "one bite at the apple" for each beverage...

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