Federal Court Rules in Favor of Wine Retailer DTC Shipments
Wine retailers received a double dose of good news last week.
As we reported earlier, on Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailer Association in a case challenging Tennessee’s state residency requirement for persons or entities that hold a state alcohol beverage retail license. Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Ass’n v. Byrd, No. 18-96 (6th Cir., 883 F. 3d 608; cert. granted Sept. 27, 2018). In determining the constitutionality of the state’s residency requirement, the Court may also weigh in on a key question that could have a big impact on direct-to-consumer shipping by wine retailers: does the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Granholm v. Heald, which prohibited state from discriminate against out of state wine producers, also prohibit state laws that discriminate against out-of-state retailers.
On Friday, a federal district court in Michigan answered that very question in favor of retailers, and concluded that if the state permits in-state wine retailers to ship direct to consumers, it must also grant the same privilege to out-of-state retailers. Lebamoff Enterprises v. Snyder, Case No. 17-10191, (E.D. Mich. Sept. 28, 2018). The Michigan law in question allowed in-state wine retailers that held a “specially designated merchant license” to ship to Michigan consumers, but prohibited out-of-state retailers from so doing. The court held that the law was not protected by the the 21st Amendment and unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court’s holding in Granholm. In granting plaintiff retailer’s motion for summary judgment, the court concluded:
“Michigan is … operating an unjustifiable protectionist regime in its consumer wine market, a privilege unsanctioned by the Twenty-first Amendment and forbidden by the dormant Commerce Clause.”
As a remedy, the court opted not to nullify the offending law, but instead extended its shipping privileges to out-of-state retailers. Unless the state legislature repeals the law, then out-of-state wine retailers will be allowed to either apply for the state’s specially designated merchant license or a comparable out-of-state license.