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Free the Grapes! Legislation and Litigation Update

From Jeremy Benson at Free the Grapes! :

Free the Grapes! Media Update
August 2007

Now that we’re at the end of most state legislative sessions, we thought it timely to provide an update on direct-to-consumer (DTC) wine direct shipping as of month-end July 2007. Here are some highlights, followed by a more detailed description.

Highlights:

o DTC legislation was considered in 23 states;
o Two states transitioned from reciprocal to a DTC permit system (MO, WV) with additional states pending (OR, IL).
o The legal direct shipping states for wineries represent 78% of wine consumption in the U.S., although retailers can reach far fewer states.

Wins:

  • Florida: the third largest state for wine enjoyment, remains a legal state for winery shipments after a fierce defense of the court order that allowed shipping;
  • Hawaii: a concerted effort to reduce quantity limits failed;
  • Missouri: transitioned from reciprocal to permit status (no fee);
  • North Dakota: increased shipping quantity limits;
  • Virginia: now allows Internet retailers without a physical presence to direct ship;
  • West Virginia: replaced reciprocal status with permit bill.

Losses:

  • Arkansas: DTC permit bill failed in committee;
  • New Mexico: reciprocal transition bill failed due largely to opposition by wholesalers and the beer lobby;
  • Georgia: effort to replace cumbersome law with permit bill failed;
  • Texas: passed a law limiting DTC shipping from in-state retailers outside their particular county;
  • Ohio: passed potentially unworkable permit system for DTC shipments, including capacity cap of 150,000 gallons;
  • Legal rulings supported the on-site sale requirement in ME, and opposed a challenge to TN’s shipping prohibition.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
Wine Institute provided significant input to the following summary of state activity this year.

States with Legislation Under Consideration

Wisconsin – For 20 years, Wisconsin has been a reciprocal state, allowing its consumers to purchase wine directly from wineries as well as in-state wine retailers. But consumers will lose these privileges if the Budget Bill passes as it is currently written. Anti-consumer provisions were slipped into the Senate version of the 384-page, $66 billion, two-year Budget Bill in mid-July. The conference committee will now reconcile differences in the Senate and Assembly versions of the budget bill.

Illinois – House Bill 429 passed both House and Senate and is before the governor for signature. It creates a winery-only DTC shipping permit that replaces the existing reciprocity law. The Specialty Wine Retailers Association was unsuccessful in securing an amendment continuing shipments from out-of-state retailers, although in-state retailers were successful at maintaining their in-state shipping privilege.

Additional States

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 and Senate, and was signed by the Governor on 5/31/07.

Arkansas – Senate Bill 592 (Whitaker), a positive bill that would have created a DTC shippers permit for wineries, died in House Rules Committee March 30.

Connecticut — Senate Bill 1204 was passed into law and changes the time period specified in the DTC shipping statute from 60 days to 2 months for the 5 gallon limit.

Florida – Shipping into FL is continues to be legal after competing bills—with and without discriminatory capacity caps—were considered but ultimately died in committees.

Georgia – House Bill 159 (Willard) and its companion Senate Bill 56 (Untermann) would have replaced the state’s convoluted shipping law with a DTC shipping license for all wineries (and retailers in SB56). The bills died in committee. Wholesaler-supported House Bill 393 (Stephens) sought to create new “domestic farm winery” and national “farm winery” categories with discriminatory capacity caps. The bill died in committee.

Hawaii – House Bill 1093 (Say) and Senate Bill 1019 (Taniguchi) sought to reduce consumer choice by limiting shipments under the existing DTC shipping permit from six cases per winery per consumer per year, to six cases per household per year. Both bills died in committee.

Idaho – House Bill 11 would have modified the permit legislation passed in 2006 to allow wholesalers and retailers in Idaho and other states to ship wine directly to consumers. Bill died in committee.

Maine – Senate Bill 54 (Bromley) would have created a DTC shippers permit for wine & beer. The bill passed the Senate on 6/12/07, but was killed in the house later that week.

Missouri — The Governor of Missouri signed SB 299 transitioning Missouri from a reciprocal state to a permit state effective August 28, 2007. The new permit law requires all wineries to obtain a direct shipping permit (no fee), limit shipments to two cases per consumer per month, submit an annual report by January 31, and pay excise taxes. The direct shipping permit application and instructions are available on the Wine Institute website at www.wineinstitute.org/programs/shipwine.

Nebraska – L441 (Mcdonald) will allocate funds raised by the existing $500 DTC shipper license fee paid by all wineries to be deposited to the NE Winery and Grape Producers Promotional Fund. The bill was signed by the Governor on May 30, 2007.

New Mexico – House Bill 1018 (Silva) passed the House, but was killed in the Senate after intense pressure from wholesalers and the beer lobby. It would have replaced reciprocity with a DTC shipping permit for wineries and retailers.

North Dakota – Senate Bill 2135 was signed into law and makes favorable changes to existing DTC shipping provisions, including: increased quantity limit from one to three cases per month, removed “reciprocal” provision passed in 2005 but never implemented, and removed vague language.

Ohio – During closing stages of budget process an amendment was adopted that will create a potentially unworkable permit system for DTC shipments into Ohio. The law has a capacity cap of 150,000 gallons, along with “per family household” aggregate limit that may prevent wineries from being able to ship even if they qualify for the permit. The bill was signed by the Governor on June 30 and becomes effective October 1, 2007.

Oklahoma – Several bills in the House and Senate were introduced, including a voter referendum to allow OK consumers to receive DTC shipments from out-of-state wineries, but a permit system has not been outlined. All bills died in committee.

Oregon – House Bill 2171 (Minnis) would transition state from a reciprocal DTC to a permit system for wineries and retailers. Status: The bill passed the House & Senate, and was sent to the Governor for signature in June.

Pennsylvania – House Bill 255 (Godshall) and Senate Bill 293 (Ferlo) are positive DTC shipping permit bills with a $100 registration fee, two cases per month to any individual. Taxes collected. Status: Both bills remain in Committee.

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 (companion bill was SB 1977, Stanley). Both bills died in Committee.

Texas – Senate Bill 1229 (Gallegos) was signed by the governor May 5, and limits the ability of TX retailers to use common carriers for DTC delivery outside their particular county. The bill was aimed at pending litigation spearheaded by the Specialty Wine Retailers Association seeking statewide sales via common carrier.

Virginia – House Bill 1784 (Cosgrove) and Senate Bill 1289 (Watkins) augmented current direct shipper permit to clarify that those shipments are by common carrier only, and created separate allowance for any legal shipper to make deliveries of up to 4 cases of wine to a consumer in their own vehicle. Additionally, Senate Bill 984 (Edwards) also became law, creating an “internet wine retailer license” to allow sales by a retailer having no physical premise.

West Virginia – Senate Bill 712 (Kessler) was signed by the governor and, among many other provisions, replaced reciprocity with a DTC permit bill for wineries, wholesalers and retailers.

LITIGATION UPDATE

Maine – As previously reported elsewhere, on March 5, U.S. District Court Judge Carter adopted the magistrate’s report and recommendation issued three months ago in the Cherry Hill (Tanford/Epstein) suit. This ruling supports an on-site sale requirement for any sales to consumers, contrary to an opinion rendered in December 2006 in KY ruling that on-site provisions were unconstitutional.

Tennessee – As previously reported elsewhere, the U.S. District Court in Tennessee ruled in favor of the state regarding what most thought was an ill-advised lawsuit (Jelovsek v. Bresden). The plaintiffs alleged that consumers faced a greater burden in traveling to another state to purchase wine in person at a winery than they faced in buying wine directly from a TN winery tasting room. The judge was not convinced, and the wholesalers have promoted their “victory” to bolster arguments for the preeminence of the 3-tier system in all matters.

Texas – All summary judgment motions have been filed. Oral arguments are scheduled for September 21 in Dallas. Wholesalers claim that passage of Senate Bill 1229 moots this lawsuit (see Texas paragraph under legislation, above).

Massachusetts — Motions for summary judgment are expected this winter in the case that seeks to overturn the 30,000 gallon production cap in the DTC law. Family Winemakers of California is the lead plaintiff.

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.

Dropping the Second Shoe

Recent lawsuits in California, following the preliminary consent decree in Texas, bring home the second major implication of Granholm.

The Supreme Court opinion of May 2005 told us that a state may not allow its own wineries to sell directly to consumers if it excludes out-of-state wineries. Its first implication �that states allowing their own wineries to distribute directly to retailers may not deny out-of-state wineries access to those customers� is expressed in the November 2005 Costco ruling, which is part of the April 2006 judgment in that case.

Reports from the Central District of California, where one of the current suits is filed, indicate the state may respond like the Texas authorities, negotiating a preliminary injunction that would expand market access while the case is pending, but not definitively forfeit the state�s right to defend the suit by attempting to distinguish Granholm. Some concession seems necessary, because as the result of political maneuvering the current California statute incorporates reciprocity as a requirement for shipment by retailers, although the statute was passed primarily to eliminate that feature and the tax waiver for direct shipment by wineries. Most analysts agree reciprocity is inconsistent with Granholm.

The third shoe of the three-legged issue will be shipment by wholesalers across state lines. A suit championing that theory was rumored in Texas and appears to be a logical next step. Whether there or elsewhere, one can expect another thump soon.

Questions remain on the pivotal question whether states can make a case for discriminating against the more numerous and perhaps less stable out-of-state retail businesses in ways Granholm says they can�t against out-of-state wineries. In cases decided to date, no state has put together a coherent record supporting its approach. Opponents of freer trade read Granholm as a bad record case and hold out hope of state victory in a better-litigated suit.

On the other hand, Granholm states the principles of non-discrimination very broadly and defines the 21st Amendment very narrowly. Moreover, the new members of the Supreme Court replace Granholm dissenters and appear unlikely to affect the balance if another case reaches them under the Commerce Clause. My guess is that Granholm issues won�t be in the Supreme Court again any time soon, because the current spate of cases involves outright discrimination against interstate commerce and is likely to be settled in the circuit courts of appeals in favor of the plaintiffs. If the circuits do not split, the Supremes probably won�t hear appeals.

The following round of cases will challenge volume caps, high license fees, and other limitations the wholesalers have been able to pile on in state legislatures. If they are analyzed as direct discrimination, they are probably winners, but they may be decided as burdening cases, in which regulatory interests are balanced against effects on commerce, with far less certain outcomes.

Preliminary injunction in Texas is a temporary truce

The recent preliminary injunction entered by agreement in Wine Country Gift Baskets.com v. Steen is only a temporary truce. Both sides are reportedly preparing for a contest over the final judgment, while the delivery companies and potential retailer-shippers attempt to figure out what the requirement that shipments be by �a carrier permitted by Texas Alc. Bev. Code Ch. 43� means in context.

Wine Country demonstrates that we are still struggling to understand the implications of Granholm. Much of the difficulty arises from what appears on superficial reading as an inconsistency in the majority position. The result in the case, like most of the text of the majority opinion, is decidedly hostile to location requirements. Nevertheless, the majority quotes from the Scalia opinion in the no-majority (4-4-1) case, North Dakota v. U.S., which refers to a 21st Amendment right to require all wine to pass through an �in-state wholesaler.�

North Dakota may have replaced Young�s Market as the repository of sacred text for adherents of old-time 21st Amendment theory. The subject quotation, however, is merely obiter dicta in Granholm and therefore not part of the case as a binding precedent. Mr. Justice Thomas excoriates the majority for what he takes as their obtuse failure to see the contradiction between that dictum and the actual holding of the case, which clearly finds the 21st Amendment inadequate as a basis for imposing in-state location requirements on wineries shipping to consumers. Nonetheless, careful reading of the majority opinion strongly suggests that North Dakota stands only for the right to require a three-tier system, and not a right to refuse distribution licenses to out-of-state wholesalers.

Costco has already resulted in a statutory change, granting out-of-state domestic manufacturers essentially the same rights as wholesalers within Washington. A similar suit is reportedly in preparation for Oregon, possibly couched broadly enough to include non-manufacturing suppliers, and another Texas suit, with a multi-state wholesaler plaintiff, is rumored.

Under Granholm, a successful plaintiff can only hope to level the playing field. The Costco court leveled down, on the theory that opening the state�s borders would be more disruptive to the entire regulatory system than would ending the local producers� self-distribution privilege -a ruling that would have put many local wineries in a serious bind had the legislature not leveled up before it became effective. A similarly inclined court could solve the Granholm problem in Wine Country by invalidating delivery rights of local retailers, leaving a legislative fix dependent on state politics. It would, however, be difficult to imagine a decree invalidating the right of local wholesalers to distribute, an activity that lies at the heart of nearly all regulatory schemes in the country. Thus, a win in court by an out-of-state wholesaler plaintiff could create a national market in supplying the retail trade and leave little room for legislatures to level down.

The role of retailers

Pending court cases in Washington and Texas will set precedent throughout the country for determining the role of retailers in the world of wine shipping. Before digging in, let’s start with a terminology summary:

Direct Shipment: The direct shipment of wine from wineries (suppliers) to end consumers. Wineries may ship via common carrier (UPS and FedEx) directly or through a third party logistics company (3PL) that ships on behalf of the winery.

Self Distribution: Shipment of wine from winery directly to retailers without passing through a distributor.

Three-tier: Three tier shipments are generally picked up at the winery by a distributor, who then delivers to retailers (liquor stores, restaurants, etc.).

Retail to Consumer: The shipment of wine from a retailer directly to end consumers.

In Washington, the Costco will likely set a precedent for self distribution. Costco challenged the three tier system for distributing wine and beer in Washington. The trial ended two weeks ago and U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman is expected to rule on the case this week or next.

Costco argues that the three-tier system is effectively a state-mandated monopoly that restricts competition and thus consumer choice and artificially inflates prices via mandatory markups. They would like to cut out the “middle man” and allow wineries to self distribute directly to Washington retailers.

In Texas, the Specialty Wine Retailers Association is suing the Texas ABC for retail to consumer shipping rights. A powerful legal team that includes the infamous Ken Starr will argue that the Graholm decision that requires that states treat in-state and out-of-state wineries evenhandedly also applies to retail to consumer shipments. Here is a quote from the press release:

“A great state has done a real wrong, by engaging in an archaic form of economic protectionism that plainly violates the constitutional rights of citizens. As the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in its recent Granholm v Heald decision, the Commerce Clause requires that out-of-state wine retailers be treated the same as in-state wine retailers,” said James Shannon, partner of Kirkland & Ellis. “Rather than abide by the U.S. Constitution, however, Texas apparently has decided to favor the interests of its powerful liquor lobby, by seeking to prevent out-of-state wine retailers from delivering wines directly to Texas consumers. That unconstitutional decision also punishes Texas consumers, who are made to pay more for wine and have a lesser selection of it,” he added.

These two cases will set landmark precedents that will likely spur another flurry of legislative and judicial activity and further complicate the wine shipping landscape. We’ll be sure to keep a close eye on both cases and their potential impacts.