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Sarasota Wine Market, LLC v. Parson

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 29, 2019

MICHAEL L. PARSON, et al. Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 37] under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs oppose the Motion. The Motion has been fully briefed. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.

         Facts and Background

          Plaintiffs brought this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging the constitutionality of Missouri's Liquor Control Law, Chapter 311 RSMo (“Liquor Control Law”).

         Like many states, Missouri “funnels liquor sales through a tier system, separating the distribution market into discrete levels.” Southern Wine and Spirits of Am., Inc. v. Division of Alc. & Tobacco Control, 731 F.3d 799, 802 (8th Cir. 2013). The first tier “consists of producers, such as brewers, distillers, and winemakers.” Id. The second tier “is comprised of solicitors, who acquire alcohol from producers and sell it ‘to, by or through' wholesalers.” Id. The third tier “is made up of wholesalers, who purchase alcohol from producers and solicitors and sell it to retailers.” Id. The fourth tier - and the tier at issue in this case - “consists of retailers, who sell alcohol to consumers.” Id. This multi-tiered system for controlling the distribution and sale of alcohol to Missouri residents is permitted by the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which grants states “virtually complete control over whether to permit importation or sale of liquor and how to structure the liquor distribution system.” Id. (quoting California Retail Liquor Dealers Ass'n v. Midcal Aluminum, Inc., 445 U.S.97, 110 (1980)).

         Missouri implements its multi-tier system through its Liquor Control Law. The Liquor Control Law prohibits “any person, firm, partnership, or corporation” from selling alcoholic beverages in Missouri “without taking a license.” §311.050 RSMo. To obtain a license, an applicant must demonstrate “good moral character” and establish that he/she is “a qualified legal voter and taxpaying citizen of the county, town, city or village” to be served. § 311.060.1 RSMo. These requirements apply to the managing officer of any corporation seeking a license. Id.

         Defendants previously filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint, which was granted for lack of standing under Rule 12(b)(1). Plaintiffs filed their Amended Complaint, followed by Defendants' filing of the instant Motion to Dismiss.

         Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint alleges the following:[1]

Plaintiff Michael Schlueter is a Missouri resident who would purchase wine from out-of-state retailers and have it shipped to his Missouri home, if Missouri law permitted him to do so. Plaintiff Terrence French us a Missouri Resident who has been refused sales of wine by out-of-state retailers due to Missouri's Liquor Control Law that bans out-of-state sales, shipments, and delivery of wine from out-of-state sources.
Plaintiff Sarasota Wine Market, LLC d/b/a Magnum Wine and Tastings (“Magnum Wine”) is a Florida Limited Liability Company that operates a retail wine store in Sarasota, Florida. Magnum Wine has received requests that it sell and ship wine to Missouri, but is unable to do so legally. It intends to sell and ship wines directly to consumers in Missouri if the laws prohibiting such sales and shipments are removed or declared unconstitutional. Plaintiff Heath Cordes is a citizen of Florida who works as a professional wine consultant, advisor, and merchant. Cordes owns and operates Magnum Wine. Plaintiffs intend to pay all taxes due on interstate wine sales and shipments, and comply with all other non-discriminatory state regulations, including obtaining licenses.

         Defendants Missouri Governor Michael L. Parson, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt[2], and Acting Supervisor of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, Division of Alcohol & Tobacco Control Keith Hendrickson are all sued in their official capacities.

         In the State of Missouri, a resident wine retailer can obtain a license from Defendants which allows it to sell, deliver, and ship by common carrier directly to Missouri consumers any wine that it has in its inventory. A Missouri wine retailer may obtain wine for resale from distributors, auction houses and private collections. The Defendants will issue such an off-premises retail license only to wine retailers located in the State of Missouri. Magnum Wine is not located in Missouri, is not eligible for a Missouri off-premises license, and is prohibited by law from selling, delivering or shipping wine from its inventory directly to consumers in Missouri. No. other Missouri license is available to Magnum Wine and Tastings that would allow it to sell, deliver, and ship wine from its inventory to consumers in Missouri. It would obtain such a license if one were available.

         Plaintiff Schlueter has contacted several out-of-state retailers either on the Internet or by phone in order to buy wines he cannot find in Missouri. These retailers include Magnum Wine, The Wine Library in New Jersey, and Federal Wine & Spirits in Boston, Massachusetts. All of these retailers refused to sell and ship their wines to Schlueter because of Missouri law. Some wines that Schlueter wants to buy are not available in retail stores in Missouri but are available from retail stores in other states. Plaintiff French has also attempted to purchase wine from out-of-state wine retailers which claims he cannot obtain either in his hometown or in Missouri and has been denied these purchases.

         Mangum Wine has been contacted by Schlueter who has attempted to buy wine and have it shipped to him in Missouri. Mangum has refused to complete this order due to Missouri's ban on out-of-state retail sales, shipments, and deliveries. Magnum Wine has lost profit of its sale of wine to Schlueter and other Missouri customers. Magnum Wine would obtain a license to sell, ship and deliver its wine directly to consumers in the State of Missouri if one were available.

         In the course of his business, Plaintiff Cordes develops personal relationships with many of his customers, makes special wine purchases for them, consults with them about wine in person, by telephone and by Internet, and sells and delivers wine to them. Some of these customers live part of the year in Florida and part of the year in Missouri. Cordes has received requests from his customers to send wine to residents of Missouri as gifts but was unable to ship the specifically requested wines because the laws of Missouri prevent him from doing so. Cordes wants to practice his profession as a wine merchant in Missouri by consulting with, obtaining wines for, and delivering wines to Missouri residents, but is prevented from doing so by Missouri law. He has suffered economic harm as a result. Mr. Cordes has not applied to Missouri officials for a retail license because it would be futile to do so since he is not a resident of Missouri and residency is required for a retail wine dealer permit. If a license were available to Cordes on terms equivalent to those for Missouri citizens, he would obtain it.

         Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges that the portions of Missouri's Liquor Control Law that allow in-state retailers to ship wine to Missouri consumers while prohibiting out-of-state retailers from doing the same is unconstitutional for two reasons:

First, Plaintiffs contend that the disparate treatment between in-state and out-of-state retailers violates the Commerce Clause because it discriminates against interstate commerce and protecting the economic interest of ...

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