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Free The Grapes! legislative update

Free the Grapes! recently provided an update on direct to consumer shipping legislation and litigation for 2007. As you can see below, many changes are likely to come this year.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Wine Institute provided the following summary of direct shipping legislation around the country.

Alaska –House Bill 34 (Ledoux) would specifically allow in-state wineries to make DTC shipments to AK consumers, with a 5-gallon per shipment limit. Status: passed House 2/14/07 and moves to Senate Community and Regional Affairs and to Senate Labor and Commerce.

Arkansas – Senate Bill 592 (Whitaker), a positive bill, creates a DTC shippers permit for wineries. Provisions include: 24 cases annually, $10 permit application fee, sales and excise tax payments annually. Status: Introduced.

Connecticut — Senate Bill 1204 (Joint Committee on General Law) makes a change to the time period specified in the DTC shipping statute from 60 days to 2 months for the 5 gallon limit. Status: Passed out of General Law on 2/27/07.

Florida – Shipping into FL is currently legal. Senate Bill 126 (Saunders) and SB 2282 (Geller) would implement a version of the industry’s model direct shipping bill, but both bills include a discriminatory 250,000 gallon capacity cap opposed by consumers and wineries. Alternatively, House Bill 1217 (Bogdanoff) does not include a cap.

Georgia – House Bill 159 (Willard) and its companion Senate Bill 56 (Untermann) create a DTC shipping license for all wineries (and retailers in SB56), repealing existing law which prohibits wineries with a wholesaler from obtaining a license. Other provisions: $100 permit fee, 24-case annual limit, sales and excise taxes to be collected. This bill is getting industry support.

The wholesaler’s House Bill 393 (Stephens) includes a discriminatory 100,000 gallon capacity cap, creates a new “domestic farm winery” using at least 50% GA grapes, and a national “farm winery” definition of a winery under 100,000 gallons that uses at least 40% grapes from its state of domicile. Such wineries can obtain a DTC shipping permit to ship up to 20 cases of wine per consumer annually. Status: Favorably reported out of House Regulated Industries Committee on 2/21/07.

Hawaii – Two bills, House Bill 1093 (Say) and Senate bill 1019 (Taniguchi), appear to be dead in committee. They would have reduced consumer choice by limiting shipments under the existing DTC shipping permit to 6 cases annually per household from an aggregate of wineries (current system is 6 cases per winery).

Idaho – House Bill 11 would modify the permit legislation passed in 2006 to allow wholesalers and retailers in Idaho and other states to ship wine directly to consumers. Status: Referred to House Revenue and Taxation on 1/22/07.

Illinois – House Bill 429 (Acevedo) is similar to last year’s transition bill that creates a winery-only DTC shipping permit to replace the existing reciprocity law. Provisions include a tiered permit fee based on size of the winery from $150 to $1,000, 12 cases annually, with sales and excise tax collection. Free the Grapes! is encouraging inclusion of retailers in the bill. Status: Passed from House Consumer Protection Committee on 2/20/07 by vote of 11-0. There is also a similar bill in the Senate (SB123, Silverstein).

Iowa – ABC hearings were held on 2/24/07. The ABC recommended to legislators that the reciprocity statute be replaced with a DTC shipping permit system. Other proposals addressed at the hearing include changing the local winery preferential tax rate, changes in Iowa wine labeling rules for IA wineries, and changes to existing designation of 5% of wine tax revenues to Iowa Wine Development Board. Status: Awaiting action by legislature.

Maine – Senate Bill 54 (Bromley) creates DTC shippers permit for wine & beer. Winery or retailer obtains a COA and nonresident shipper’s license ($100 fee). Annual sales and excise tax payments required. Status: Introduced.

Missouri – House Bill 944 (Cooper) creates a DTC permit for wineries to ship 2 cases per month, and requires permit and tax collection. Carriers must obtain permit. Amendment to add retailers drafted on 2/26/07. Status: Introduced.

Montana – Senate Bill 524 (Wanzenried) proposes changes such as adding “purposely, knowingly or negligently” language to the connoisseur’s license, which does not currently work for consumers or wineries. Status: Reported “Do Pass” from Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs on 2/21/07.

New Mexico – House Bill 1018 (Silva) creates DTC shipping permit for wineries and retailers to replace reciprocity. Provisions: $50 fee, pay excise and Gross Receipts Tax, 24 cases annually. Status: Passed favorably on 9-1 vote from House Business & Industries Committee on 2/25/07. Companion bill is Senate Bill 1047 (Taylor).

New York – Interestingly, Assembly Bill 4345 (Destito) replicates the wine DTC shipping program for beer manufacturers and beer wholesalers. Free the Grapes! has no activities or campaigns concerning this bill because it deals with beer and not wine. Status: Introduced.

North Dakota – Senate Bill 2135 (Senate Finance and Taxation Committee) makes changes to existing DTC shipping statute. Provisions: increases amount of shipments to 3 cases per month (currently 1 case per month), removes “reciprocal” provision passed in 2005 but never implemented. Removed vague language that could have been interpreted to allow an in-state winery to also hold a wholesalers license – clarifies no self-distribution, which was believed to be the case by in-state industry at this time anyway. Status: Passed Senate 1/23/07 and now to House Finance and Taxation.

Oklahoma – Several bills in the House and Senate have been introduced, several of which request a voter referendum to allow OK consumers to receive DTC shipments from out-of-state wineries, but a permit system has not been outlined.

Oregon – House Bill 2171 (Minnis) transitions OR from a reciprocal DTC to a permit system. Would cover wineries only. Status: Introduced. This is the OLCC bill. House Bill 2488 (House Business and Labor Committee) is similar, allowing wineries, retailers and “associations” to obtain permits. $50 fee. Excise taxes to be paid. Unlimited shipments. Status: Introduced.

Pennsylvania – House Bill 255 (Godshall) is a positive DTC shipping permit bill with a $100 registration fee, 2 cases per month to any individual. Taxes collected. Status: Introduced.

Tennessee – House Bill 1850 (Todd) creates a DTC shipping permit for 2 cases annually. Provisions: $100 fee, annual reports, annual excise and sales tax payments. Status: Introduced. Companion bill in Senate (1977, Stanley).

Virginia – Senate Bill 984 (Edwards) creates an “internet wine retailer license” to allow sales by a retailer having no physical premise. Status: Passed both House and Senate and sent to Governor on 2/22/07.

West Virginia – Senate Bill 712 (Kessler) is an omnibus liquor bill, that among many provisions, includes creation of a DTC shipping permit for wineries, wholesalers and retailers. Provisions include: $150 permit fee, 2 cases per month, sales and excise tax payments. Removes self distribution privilege for instate wineries. Original 50% tax increase has been removed. Creates a “wine spa” license, a wine B&B license, and a “mini” winery license to replace farm winery permits.

LITIGATION UPDATE

Texas — The Specialty Wine Retailers Association (SWRA, www.specialtywineretailers.org) litigation in Texas to address that state’s discriminatory stance between in-state and out-of-state retailers is in its discovery phase. Until the case is decided, out-of-state retailers may continue to ship to Texas consumers.

Massachusetts — The Family Winemakers of California reports that its lawsuit against the State of Massachusetts seeking to overturn the 30,000 gallon production cap in the DTC law is still in the discovery phase. Once discovery is complete both sides will be preparing motions for summary judgment for later in the year.

Clarifications on Direct Shipping Laws

The enforcement and interpretation of various state laws for Direct-to-Consumer wine shipments continue to evolve. Following are three recent updates that wineries should be aware of.

Connecticut: Wineries of any size are eligible to apply for an Out-of- State Shippers Permit in CT. The cost of the permit is $250 and there is a $100 filing fee. Wineries producing 100,000 gallons a year or less that have an approved Out-of- State Shippers Permit are allowed self-distribution privileges in addition to shipping direct-to-consumers.

Georgia: Wineries shipping direct-to-consumers in Georgia are not required to pay sales tax, unless they have a nexus (an office or employees) within the state. The Special Order Direct Shipping License in GA does not trigger a sales tax requirement.

North Carolina: Wineries that have an approved Direct Shippers Permit for NC are allowed to ship direct-to-consumers throughout the entire state, including dry counties. Direct-to-consumer shipments are legal in the 4 dry counties because the transaction is not taking place outside of the restricted area.

Connecticut permit fee clarification

The direct wine shipping permit application process in Connecticut just became a littler clearer thanks to their new forms. The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Liquor Division has put all of the forms needed to obtain an Out-of-State Shipper�s Permit on their website. The same forms are linked to Wine Institute�s Direct Shipping website. There is now one initial permit fee of $250.00 as well as a $100.00 application filing fee for out-of-state wineries of all sizes. However, out-of-state wineries that provide an affidavit affirming that the winery did not produce more than 100,000 gallons of wine during the most recent calendar year are eligible to ship directly to retailers for no additional fee. These out-of-state wineries must continue to register their brands with the Liquor Control Division and register with the Department of Revenue Services. Labels must be registered by the winery, cost $100.00 per label and must be renewed every 3 years. In addition, wineries must pay excise taxes and 6% sales tax on all shipments to Connecticut consumers.

The broader effects of Costco

I. Discrimination against Direct Distribution from Outside the State

There seems little doubt that Costco�s reading of Granholm will survive appeal. Nothing appeared in the Costco record to distinguish direct shipment of beer and wine to retailers from direct shipment of wine to consumers.

Most states with wine industries allow local wineries some form of direct distribution. Only Washington extends an equal privilege to out-of-state wineries, a result of the Costco remedial legislation. A few states, such as New Jersey, have taken preemptive action by eliminating or restricting direct distribution rights of in-state producers. Limiting direct distribution according to annual production of the producer is emerging as a common theme. Florida recently arrived at a legislative “compromise” that set the cutoff just above the size of the largest Florida winery, a transparently protectionist measure that may or may not evade analysis as discrimination, but, like all size caps, is open to Commerce Clause objection for disproportionate burden on commerce originating outside the state.

Thus, the immediate concern is with legislation in the states that must level up or down. The Costco decision accommodated state concerns by leveling down (with a stay for legislative override) and thus does not constitute precedent for requiring open access to local markets. Because other lower courts may also find the unconstitutionality of discriminatory schemes in the protectionist measures favoring local wineries, rather than in the more basic regulatory objective of controlling the traffic pattern of liquor entering the state, neither Granholm nor Costco suggests that suppliers can rely on widespread opening of markets to direct distribution.

II. Posting and Ancillary Restraints

Costco illustrates a great divide in basic Sherman Act jurisprudence. For some observers, no contract, combination, or conspiracy can be inferred from private actors� facially unilateral acquiescence in state restraints, even if the effects are anticompetitive. That is, roughly, the Fisher v. Berkeley view. See, e.g., Sisters of St. Vincent Health Services, Inc. v. Morgan County, 397 F. Supp. 2d 1032, 1046 (S.D. Ind. 2005), citing Massachusetts Food Ass’n v. Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Comm’n, 197 F.3d 560, 564-66 (1st Cir.1999).

Naturally, the district court in Seattle regarded Miller v. Hedlund as controlling 9th Circuit precedent. The reasoning in Miller is difficult to pin down. It appears influenced by anticompetitive effects (which we know are alone insufficient), but also to rely on the participation of private actors, consisting of filling in the blanks of a posting system which was then enforced by the state. The opinion mentions potential for collusion, but does not seem to require it. Last December�s antitrust rulings in Costco clearly rest on the wholesaler�s participation in the form of supplying prices that then become mandatory by the power of the state, resulting in a hybrid system requiring state supervision (which was lacking in Washington’s case) to survive preemption. However, all the U.S. Supreme Court authority overturning price posting deals with systems that require or condone private conduct that itself violate the Sherman Act. The Costco judge, like the Court of Appeals in Miller, seems to find a combination by, so to speak, putting the state in the same room with each private actor who posts a price. By contrast, Midcal and the other Supreme Court cases invalidating price posting laws deal with systems that send the private actors to a room where they constitute the unlawful combination on their own. How the Fisher-Miller dissonance resolves is, I think, the most important issue for the Costco appeal.

Another significant issue in applying Costco to the law in other states is the extent to which the cluster of other restraints that frequently accompany posting would fall with it. I see three bases on which that might occur. First, the court might conclude that the system is so integrated that the legislature would not have enacted the other restraints if it had known posting itself to be illegal. Second, on general principles of equity, a court issuing an injunction against unlawful conduct has power to enjoin lawful conduct associated with it if necessary to render complete relief from the threatened harm. Third, a court might conclude that the other restraints constituted per se antitrust violations on their own, which appears as an alternative basis for decision in the December opinion on summary judgment motions, incorporated by reference in the conclusions of law for the final judgment.

That third possible approach would extend Costco�s effects to more states, including some without price posting. It is, however, the most controversial of the three, as it requires finding a public-private hybrid restraint without an overt role for private parties, such as providing prices the state then enforces.

In sum, Costco is not carte blanche for ignoring other states’ posting laws, although within the Ninth Circuit an aggressive position could be justified. As a rough first look, here are some immediately vulnerable points: AZ quantity discount limits, CA beer posting, CT posting, DE delivered wholesale pricing, FL malt beverage price change waiting period and possibly the limits on quantity discounts, GA posting, HI possibly restrictions on quantity discounts, ID posting, IN posting, IA posting (possibly), KS posting (possibly), ME posting and discount restraints, MD posting and quantity discount ban (already analyzed in TFWS I through III), MA posting, MI posting and quantity discount ban, MN posting and possibly restriction on quantity discounts, MO posting and 1% limit on quantity discounts, NH beer posting, NY posting (including amendments effective in September), NC quantity discount ban, OH posting, OK posting and quantity discount ban, OR price record-keeping (possibly, because of deterrent effect on spot pricing) and price uniformity requirement, SD posting, TN posting and quantity discount ban, VT posting, VA posting, WV beer posting.

III. Central Warehousing

Central warehousing bans are difficult to analyze, because (unlike the case in Washington) they are often based on interpretation of retail license privileges or tied house laws, rather than on express prohibition. Caveats regarding ultimate application of Costco to posting and its ancillary restraints apply strongly to central warehousing bans, because they may appear more severable from direct restraint on price than, e.g., quantity discount bans. The Costco antitrust opinion of December and the recent findings of fact and conclusions of law do not present a clear rationale for distinguishing the central warehousing ban, which it classified as an antitrust violations, from the retailer-to-retailer sales ban, which it found was unilateral state action not preempted by federal antitrust law. Thus, it is difficult to predict how courts, even those following the Miller v. Hedlund line on antitrust combinations, will respond to the Costco ruling if asked to evaluate central warehousing in other states.

The following represents a currently incomplete survey of states potentially affected by Costco on use of central retail warehouses:

Central retail warehouses banned: AL, AR, CO, DE, ID, IL, IA, KS, MD, MI, NH, NM

Not banned: AK, AZ, CA, CT, DC, MA, OR

We are still researching the status of central warehousing in the states not listed above.

Flip-flop by Rendell gives hope to wineries

Earlier we noted that Pennsylvania Governor Rendell opposed direct wine shipments because they would increase the chance that minors receive alcohol. After taking a lot of heat for that “colossal lie”, Rendell changed his tune and is now saying that it’s all about state revenue. “The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which manages the state’s 640 liquor stores, generated $373.6 million in taxes and profits on $1.5 billion in sales during fiscal 2004-05.” That is 25% of sales.

Rendell is concerned about “slippage”, or lost revenues from wineries that might not report and pay taxes on shipments made directly to consumers. But this issue has been addressed by a number of different states, including New York, Connecticut, and Texas. States can require wineries to obtain a permit for direct shipping and can also charge a permit fee. They can collect excise taxes and sales taxes as they see fit and require wineries to report every shipment that they make into the state. They can even require the common carriers to get a copy of the direct shippping permit from each winery, collect an adult signature on delivery and report all shipments that they make from every winery, listing the permit number. The state can revoke the direct shipping permit of any winery in violation of the rules.

New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, and Texas have proven that allowing direct shipments while preventing the sale of alcohol to minors and gaining revenue in the process are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Read more about PA here.