California Tied House Law Upheld by Federal Appeals Court
An en banc panel of the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit (the federal appeals court with jurisdiction for the nine western states) has rejected a First Amendment challenge to California’s tied house laws. In so doing, the court overturned an earlier decision by a three-judge panel that had applied a more rigorous standard for regulations that restrict commercial speech and, thereby, raised questions about the state’s ability to enforce certain laws that restrict supplier-sponsored advertisements at alcohol beverage retail premises. The case is Retail Digital Network v. Prieto, Case No. 13-56069 (9th Cir. June 14, 2017).
The case involved a company, Retail Digital Network (“RDN”), that installed and operated digital displays in wine and spirit retail stores. RDN sold advertising space on those displays to companies, and RDN shared a portion of its advertising revenue with retail stores. Alcohol beverage manufacturers were wary of buying advertising on the RDN displays in light of California ABC Act Section 25503 which prohibits alcohol beverage manufacturers, importers, and wholesalers from “paying money” or providing “anything of value for the privilege of placing or painting a sign or advertisement…on or in any” alcohol beverage retail premises. RDN filed suit, claiming that Section 25503 impermissibly restricted commercial speech in violation of the First Amendment.
The Ninth Circuit concluded that Section 25503 did not violate the First Amendment, holding in pertinent part that the regulation directly advances the government’s interest in preventing the undue influence of manufacturers and wholesalers over alcohol beverage retailers, and that the regulation was not more extensive than necessary to serve that interest.
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