Huge win for wineries, but can I ship to Massachusetts now?

Sovos | January 17, 2010

First Circuit affirms District Court decision

On Thursday, January 14th, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court in the case of Family Winemakers of California v. Jenkins. The appellatte decision represents a major victory for wineries and may be the end of the case that was originally filed by Family Winemakers of California in September of 2006.

"We’re delighted with the decision on behalf of our members and all wineries across the U.S. We’re also glad that this court put its foot down about discriminatory laws, like production caps, not being able to withstand judicial scrutiny. Now it’s time to change Massachusetts law so that all wineries, not only in California but across the nation that produce more than 30,000 gallons will have an opportunity to fulfill the wine choices of Bay State residents," said Paul Kronenberg, President of Family Winemakers of California.

98% of domestic wine excluded

Massachusetts law allowed “small” wineries that produced less than 30,000 gallons per year to simultaneously ship wines directly to consumers with a “small winery shipping license” and to have their wines sold in traditional distribution through wholesalers. “Large” wineries (wineries that produce more than 30,000 gallons per year) did not have the same choices. They could either completely opt out of the three-tier system and ship wines to Massachusetts consumers with a “large winery shipping license”, or forego direct shipping to have their wines sold at wine retailers, restaurants and bars via traditional distribution.

According to the decision, the 637 wineries that qualified as “large” accounted for 98% of all wine produced in the United States in 2006. Of those 637, the top 30 producers accounted for 92% of the national market. The remaining 2% of U.S. wine production came from 4,713 “small” wineries, and 1,780 of those produced less than one gallon. In 2007, 100% of the 31 Massachusetts wineries produced less than 30,000 gallons per year.

Discrimination against interstate commerce

In November, 2008, the District Court ruled in that Massachusetts law had a discriminatory effect on interstate commerce. On Thursday, the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court. The decision states in relevant part:

The primary question before us is whether § 19F unconstitutionally discriminates against interstate commerce in light of both the Commerce Clause, Footnote art. I, § 8, cl. 3, and § 2 of the Twenty-first Amendment.

It is clear that § 2 of the Twenty-first Amendment does not protect state alcohol laws that explicitly favor in-state over out-of-state interests from invalidation under the Commerce Clause. Granholm v. Heald, 544 U.S. 460, 489 (2005). But § 19F is neutral on its face; it does not, by its terms, allow only Massachusetts wineries to distribute their wines through a combination of direct shipping, wholesaler distribution, and retail sales. Section 19F instead uses a very particular gallonage cap to confer this benefit upon "small" as opposed to "large" wineries.

We hold that § 19F violates the Commerce Clause because the effect of its particular gallonage cap is to change the competitive balance between in-state and out-of-state wineries in a way that benefits Massachusetts’s wineries and significantly burdens out-of-state competitors. Massachusetts has used its 30,000 gallon grape wine cap to expand the distribution options available to "small" wineries, including all Massachusetts wineries, but not to similarly situated "large" wineries, all of which are outside Massachusetts. The advantages afforded to "small" wineries by these expanded distribution options bear little relation to the market challenges caused by the relative sizes of the wineries. Section 19F’s statutory context, legislative history, and other factors also yield the unavoidable conclusion that this discrimination was purposeful. Nor does § 19F serve any legitimate local purpose that cannot be furthered by a non-discriminatory alternative.

We further hold that the Twenty-first Amendment cannot save § 19F from invalidation under the Commerce Clause. Section 2 of the Twenty-first Amendment does not exempt or otherwise immunize facially neutral but discriminatory state alcohol laws like § 19F from scrutiny under the Commerce Clause. We affirm the grant of injunctive relief.

New legislation needed

As we posted about almost three years ago, the capacity cap was not the only troubling issue with the Massachusetts wine law. The consumer aggregate volume limit provision and, more importantly, the requirement that carriers obtain a permit for each of their delivery trucks have been in some ways just as problematic for wine consumers. After DHL pulled out of the business of delivering wine, FedEx and UPS are by far and away the major two carriers for interstate delivery.

Both FedEx and UPS have chosen to avoid interstate wine shipments to Massachusetts because of the delivery vehicle permit system. This will likely not change following this decision. Technically, Massachusetts is now open to any domestic winery that holds the appropriate permit, regardless of its use of middle-tier distribution. But, without FedEx and UPS, Bay State consumers will still be out of luck for now. New legislation that eliminates the consumer aggregate volume limit and changes the delivery vehicle requirements will likely be necessary to truly open the state for Massachusetts consumers. This decision may just provide the momentum to pass a new wine shipping bill.

We’ll post further analysis from R. Corbin Houchins in the coming days, so please stay tuned. Also, for more background, see our previous posts:

Massachusetts Still Question Mark for 30K-Gallon Wineries

Up and Running (So Far)

A Battle Well-Picked and Well-Fought 

Family Winemakers Court Win is Big for the Industry

Family Winemakers of California Making Headway in Massachusetts

Why Can’t I Have a Boston Wine Party?

“New Vintage” of Wine Litigation

A response to the Family Winemakers lawsuit

Family Winemakers sues Massachusetts over capacity cap

The broader effects of Costco

MA Congress overrides Romney veto, court challenge likely

Romney introduces new bill

Massachusetts Governor vetoes wine bill


Family Winemakers v. Jenkins