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Kansas’ Limited Direct-to-Consumer Shipping Law

Governor Kathleen Sebelius on May 23, 2006 signed a direct to consumer (DTC) shipping bill in Kansas that gives us only half of what we were seeking. This was an extremely hard-fought battle in a state that had previously banned all DTC shipments. Unfortunately, the success Chuck McGrigg and our local lobbyists had in passing our version of the bill from the House were undermined when the Kansas wineries, faced with uncertainty as to self-distribution, made an agreement with the Kansas Wine & Spirits Wholesalers, leading us ultimately to oppose an important component of the final bill. The new law allows both in-state and out-of-state wineries to ship directly to consumers, although “the consumer must purchase the wine while physically present on the premises of the wine manufacturer.”

Consumers will be responsible for paying the necessary taxes on such on-site shipments. The portion of the legislation we opposed dealt with complex procedures that will be required for off-site purchases. Here, the consumer must identify a retail licensee in KS to which the winery will ship the wine, for pickup by that consumer. The retailer will be required to collect and remit all taxes due, and may charge the consumer up to $5 for each delivery received on their behalf.

A further restriction requires that wineries over 100,000 gallons can only send the wine to the designated retailer via their in-state KS wholesaler, who will deliver the package on to the retailer for pickup by the consumer. Wineries are required to complete a direct wine shipping permit application and agreement, file annual reports and pay required taxes for off-site shipments

Costco-Granholm battle lines forming in Ohio

Ohio wineries selling to state residents operate under a mandatory 33.3% markup system, whether distributing directly or through a wholesaler.

Under past law, wineries outside the state could not sell to Ohio consumers at all. To comply with Granholm, the state accepted a consent decree permitting consumers to purchase directly from out-of-state wineries, beginning in July 2005. The decree makes no provision for minimum markups, and shipments are authorized so long as the parties comply with pre-existing § 4307.08 of the statutes and § 4301:1-1-23 of the regulations and use the new form at www.liquorcontrol.ohio.gov/1516pdf.pdf.

Although the Commerce Clause may not prohibit Ohio’s treating interstate commerce more favorably than local commerce (the reverse of local protectionism condemned by Granholm), the current system could be interpreted as favoring in-state wineries by shielding them from local price competition. More immediately significant is the political problem arising from competitive pricing by out-of-state sellers, to the detriment of Ohio wholesalers and retailers.

Governor Taft’s response has been to propose legislation applying the mandatory markup to out-of-state sellers. A rival proposal would limit all direct selling to wineries producing no more than 150,000 gallons annually. State legislative hearings are likely this fall.

Both proposals raise significant legal issues. Minimum markups were invalidated under federal antitrust law in Costco, a result consistent with earlier cases in Kentucky and Kansas. Volume caps are problematic, with court challenges now in early stages. Invalidity under Granholm is possible, if a court finds the threshold, which is typically just above the largest home state winery, a de facto discrimination against interstate commerce relative to local commerce. Otherwise, the law will be evaluated under an “unreasonable burden” test, in which the regulatory interest of the state is weighed against disadvantage to out-of-state sellers, with a less certain outcome than in cases of outright protectionist discrimination.

Kansas to allow direct shipment of on-site orders

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius signed Senate Bill No. 297 last week, making it legal for in-state and out-of-state wineries to ship wine directly to Kansas consumers provided that “the consumer must purchase the wine while physically present on the premises of the wine manufacturer”. The new laws go into effect on July 1st. The legislation is a small step in the right direction as Kansas was previously a prohibited state for shipping wine. Kansas consumers will be responsible for paying all applicable taxes.

SB 297 also establishes new, but complex rules for off-site purchases. Wineries that produce less than 100,000 gallons can apply for a $50 permit that allows for off-site orders to be placed by Kansas consumers if the wine is first shipped directly to a licensed retailer.

Wine sold and shipped by a person holding a shipping permit shall be delivered to the licensed premises of the licensed retailer designated by the purchaser during hours the retailer is authorized by law to sell alcoholic liquor. The retailer shall collect taxes with regard to such wine pursuant to K.S.A. 79-4101 et seq., and amendments thereto, in accordance with rules and regulations of the secretary, as if the sale were made in this state. The retailer may charge the purchaser a handling fee of not more than $5 for each delivery of wine received by the retailer on behalf of the purchaser. The retailer shall ensure that the purchaser of the wine is 21 or more years of age.

Wineries that produce more than 100,000 gallons must ship off-site orders via the three-tier system.

the wine shall be shipped in the original unopened container to a licensed distributor, who shall deliver the wine to the licensed premises of the retailer designated by the consumer;

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.

Summary of changing states

Wow, there have been a lot of changes to direct shipping laws this year and we are not even at the six month mark! Many reciprocal and prohibited states are becoming permit states. This is good news for wineries and consumers, but it is hard to keep track of all the changes. There are several states that have passed direct shipping legislation this year that is not yet effective. Here is a brief summary of states that will change to permit systems later this year. Colorado, effective July 1, 2006: A permit is required, but there is no fee. Wineries can ship an unlimited amount to consumers and must pay excise tax. Sales tax is not required. Idaho, effective July 1, 2006: A $25 permit is required. Wineries may ship up to 24 cases to a consumer annually. Sales and excise tax must be paid by the winery. Indiana, awaiting promulgation of rules: Wineries eligible for the $100 permit must have sales under 500,000 gallons with no Indiana wholesaler. The initial sale must be an on-site transaction. There is a 24 case consumer aggregate total and 3,000 case winery total. Sales and Excise tax must be paid by the winery. Massachusetts, awaiting promulgation of rules: The direct shipper�s permit will cost $100. Any winery under 30,000 gallons may obtain a direct-to-consumer and self-distribution permit. Any out-of-state winery over 30,000 gallons who has no wholesaler may apply for a direct-to-consumer permit only. Households will be limited to 26 cases per year. Excise tax is required. In addition, there are some very complex common carrier requirements that could prevent the use of permits even for wineries that qualify. There is one piece of good news, if a winery manages to overcome all of these obstacles it will not be responsible for paying sales tax. Washington, effective June 7, 2006: The cost of a permit $100. Wineries can ship an unlimited amount to consumers and are responsible for paying sales and excise tax. The new laws will not be posted on the Wine Institute website until their effective date, but direct wine shipper applications and tax registration forms will be posted as soon as they are available. I am especially excited about the unlimited shipment amounts in Colorado and Washington. I wonder just how many wine clubs my friends at ShipCompliant will join?