On-Site Requirements: Still Standing in the Heartland

Last August, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Baude v. Heath invalidated an Indiana statute that made most out-of-state wineries ineligible for the “direct wine seller’s permit,” which the law would have limited to in-state wineries and to wineries in the few states that do not grant them local wholesaling privileges. However, the opinion upheld the requirement that a consumer’s first purchase from each winery occur on the winery premises, a ruling that led the plaintiffs to seek review in the Supreme Court by petitioning for a writ of certiorari, based on de facto discrimination against distant wineries.

On May 18, 2009, the Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs’ petition without opinion. The consequence is that the Circuit Court opinion remains the last word on the subject, at least among the federal courts of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. (The case does not address a subsequent statutory change disqualifying wineries with Indiana wholesaler relationships from direct shipment, but a similar Massachusetts provision that fell disproportionately on out-of-state wineries was invalidated in Family Winemakers of California v. Jenkins.)

Denials of certiorari carry no legal weight as to the merits of the issues, but the ruling illustrates the propositions that Granholm does not “open the states” to direct shipment (in case there is anyone who hasn’t yet gotten that message) and that clarification of Granholm is probably not a high priority for the Court. For the near term, Granholm’s many unanswered questions will continue to leave lower courts considerable freedom in deciding how much a state may burden cross-border wine commerce. If conflicts among the circuits develop over time, chances of Supreme Court review will improve.

Face-to-Face Enforced in Indiana

The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission is now enforcing the statutory citation concerning the initial face-to-face transaction requirement in Section 7.1-3-26-6. The face-to-face requirement originally became effective on July 1, 2006, but was later stayed by the Court on August 24, 2007. However, the stay has expired and it is recommended that direct shippers comply with face-to-face requirement. Indiana consumers may only receive off-site shipments if they have visited the winery and completed an on-site transaction. Indiana consumers who have not completed a face-to-face transaction with the direct shipper are no longer eligible to receive wine shipments. Additional information about direct-to-consumer shipping regulations can be found by visiting http://www.wineinstitute.org/initiatives/stateshippinglaws and clicking on the state of Indiana.

Annie Bones, State Relations – Wine Institute

An Unfortunate Direct Shipping License Clarification in Texas

Wineries applying for a Texas Direct Wine Shipper’s Permit or renewing their existing permit must now pay a surcharge of $160 in addition to the $75 annual permit fee. Currently the Direct Shipper’s permit is renewed annually. However, beginning January 1, 2009 all Direct Shipper licenses will be valid for two years. Applicants will have to pay license fees and surcharges for 2 years totaling $470 when applying for a permit in 2009. The Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission added significant surcharges to a wide range of licenses affecting both in-state and out-of-state applicants.

Annie Bones, State Relations – Wine Institute

Indiana Still Standing on Their Face

On September 11th, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeal said that they will not rehear an appeal concerning the original opinion of the Court in Indiana. The denial to rehear the case confirms that currently it is legally within the power of the State of Indiana to require wineries to ship wine to Indiana consumers only if an initial face-to-face transaction occurs. According to the Family Winemakers of California, this was “due to the fact that there was an insufficient evidentiary record to demonstrate that such a provision discriminated against interstate commerce”. Since a rehearing was denied, the only step remaining for Baude v. Heath would be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Little Knowledge Is Not Enough: Evidentiary Burdens In On-Site Cases

The August 7th decision of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Baude v. Heath has been characterized as a loss in the fight against on-site purchase requirements. Indeed, the opinion leaves Indiana’s initial personal visit requirement in place. That is not, however, the whole story.

It’s important to keep in mind in reading the opinion that the Court of Appeals is affirming the lower court’s granting of summary judgment against the state on one point and reversing it on another. That is, the district court had decided no trial was necessary because uncontested facts established the unconstitutionality of both the wholesale licensee ban and the initial on-site visit requirement. The appellate court agreed with the former conclusion and disagreed with the latter.

Statutes that openly discriminate against out-of-state wineries are almost always unconstitutional and provide fit subjects for summary judgment. Statutes without openly discriminatory provisions, but whose effect in practice is to impose a greater burden on out-of-state wineries than on local wineries, may be unconstitutional, depending (in the locution of the leading case) on whether the burden is “clearly excessive in relation to the putative local benefits.”

That determination of excess is at the heart of the 7th Circuit opinion. The appellate court had little trouble in concluding that the kinky ban on shipment by wineries that had direct distribution rights anywhere provided virtually no benefits, except to wholesalers, and was substantially burdensome. Because uncontested facts in the district court demonstrated exclusion of a substantial number of out-of-state sellers, the plaintiffs had met their burden of showing discriminatory harm to interstate commerce, shifting the obligation to produce evidence to the defendants. The state and wholesalers had offered only one intelligible counterargument –the claim that requiring commerce to go through a local middle tier makes it easier to monitor sales and collect state excises. We can keep Baude v. Heath in the column of cases that do not consider that claim a substantial justification for demonstrated burdens on commerce.

In the other (and more important) half of the 7th Circuit opinion, the same burden-benefit analysis reached a different conclusion with respect to the supposed economic consequences of Indiana’s requirement that the consumer travel to the winery site before receiving the first direct shipment order. Faced with a contention that such a burden is inherently excessive, the chief judge offered some unvarnished advice to plaintiffs’ counsel: “It is impossible to tell whether a burden on interstate commerce is [excessive] without understanding the magnitude of both burdens and benefits. . . . . Exact figures are not essential (no more than estimates may be possible)[,] and the evidence need not be in the record if it is subject to judicial notice, but it takes more than lawyers’ talk to condemn a statute . . . .” In other words, you can’t litigate a burdening case as if it were a case of overt facial discrimination. See Notes on Wine Distribution, pages 8-10, for my discussion of that point and of Cherry Hill Vineyard (which was cited in Baude) and similar cases.

Regarding judicial notice (which occurs when a court accepts something, such as a tide table, as true from published sources, without live testimony), courts seldom take notice of controversial facts. That point came up when the chief judge, sounding a bit offended by plaintiffs’ argument that there was no point in having a face-to-face screening system because determined underage purchasers would defeat or circumvent it, declined to take judicial notice of propositions they advanced in support. Plaintiffs cited some studies and attempted to use an on-line ID check provider’s advertising to show on-site screening is unnecessary. The appellate court wasn’t having it and noted that “it would be awfully hard to take judicial notice that in-person verification with photo ID has no effect on wine fraud and therefore flunks the interstate commerce clause.”

Thus, although delivery requirements involve face-to-face proof of age, Baude stands for the proposition that plaintiffs would have to prove that carrier screening undercuts the enforcement benefit of the initial winery site requirement. The appellate opinion refers to Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transport Ass’n, a case involving a specific tobacco-regulating statute, as forbidding states to require carriers to check age of persons receiving intoxicating liquor. That is, I believe, an egregiously wrong reading of the case (see blogging on both sides of the issue here), but the opinion does not rely on it. Rather, it describes the face-to-face transaction between carrier employee and recipient of the shipment as facially inferior to age screening at a winery, to a degree that allows the state to treat the former as inadequate. As with economic effects, plaintiff evidence was, in the court’s view, simply absent on the efficacy of at-delivery age screening: “Given the state of this record, and the state of the empirical literature, we know very little.” The take-away is that before you can knock down a duly enacted state statute, you need to know –and show– rather a lot about its discriminatory effects.

The primary importance of Baude is to add weight to an already substantial body of judicial opinion that suits based on a facially neutral law’s burdensome effects on interstate commerce relative to local commerce have to be tried quite differently from suits like Granholm, which was based on overt and explicit discrimination against interstate commerce. The case does not say that the face-to-face law would prove constitutional in a properly presented case, only that it was wrong to conclude that its unconstitutionality was so clear as to require no presentation of quantitative evidence on its burdens.

Reversing a grant of summary judgment does not require that the lower court enter summary judgment for the other side. Rather, it provides guidance to the district court as to evidentiary requirements if the case goes on to trial, and leaves the statute in place if there are no further proceedings below. The plaintiffs’ burden of proof in Baude is substantial but not unsupportable. It ain’t necessarily over.

7th Circuit Reverses Indiana Face to Face Ban

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals made an important decision yesterday regarding face-to-face transactions when shipping wine directly to Indiana consumers. After Indiana initially passed its direct shipping laws to comply with Granholm, the face-to-face requirement was successfully challenged in August of 2007. However, yesterday’s decision will eventually reverse the face-to-face clause.

None of the plaintiffs contends that Indiana’s law has led him to buy more wine from Indiana and less from other states. The law simply shifts sales from smaller wineries (in all states, including Indiana) to larger wineries (all of which are located outside Indiana). The Indiana Winegrowers Guild has filed a brief as amicus curiae opposing the face-to-face clause, which the Guild maintains has made it unduly difficult for its members to ship their wine direct to consumers. But if what the Guild says is
true, then the statute—although bad economically for Indiana’s wineries—must be sustained against a challenge under the commerce clause. Favoritism for large wineries over small wineries does not pose a constitutional problem, and the fact that all Indiana wineries are small does more to show that this law’s disparate impact cuts against in-state product than to show that Indiana has fenced out wine from other jurisdictions.

The judgment of the district court with respect to the wholesale clause is affirmed, and with respect to the face-to-face clause is reversed. The case is remanded for the entry of a judgment consistent with this opinion.

We expect to receive clarification from the lower court or from the Indiana ABC on how current and future permit holders can comply with the existing statutes. We’ll update you here as we receive more information.