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7th Circuit upholds Indiana law on wine shipping

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld an Indiana statute that prevents alcohol retailers from shipping their products to consumers by using a motor carrier such as UPS, and the state has the authority to regulate those shipments through the 21st Amendment.

In a 36-page opinion issued Tuesday in Lebamoff Enterprises v. Alex Hurley, in his official capacity as chairman of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, No. 11-1362, a three-judge panel affirmed a ruling by U.S. Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson in Indianapolis. The District judge had granted judgment for the state defendants and against a northeastern Indiana wine retailer challenging the state statute.

Filed by Cap N’Cork, a company that owns retail liquor stores in the Fort Wayne area, and joined by two Indianapolis wine consumers, the suit challenged the constitutionality of Indiana Code 7.1-3-15-3(d) that forbids delivery of wine, liquor and beer by anyone other than the seller of the wine or an employee . The plaintiffs argued the state law is preempted by federal statute regulating motor carriers and also contended that it restricts intrastate commerce and goes against their 21st Amendment right to regulate alcohol sales.

The majority judges found that Cap N’ Cork’s federal preemption argument fails because the statute isn’t attempting to regulate motor carriers. The judges also applied a 1970 ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States, Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., 397 U.S. 137, 142 (1970), to balance the circumstances at issue in the case between the statute and how caselaw interacts with the 21st Amendment.

“The case comes down to a complaint that state law is preventing Cap N’ Cork from enlarging its sales area to encompass parts of Indiana remote from Fort Wayne,” Judge Richard Posner wrote in the opinion, joined by Judge Diane Sykes. “If true that is an effect on intrastate commerce, not interstate commerce. No effect on interstate commerce has been shown … The absence of even an incidental effect on interstate commerce excuses us from having to wrestle with the continued applicability of the Pike standard to state laws that while they discriminate incidentally against interstate commerce are at the same time within the Twenty-First Amendment’s gravitational field.”

U.S. Judge David Hamilton issued a separate lengthy opinion that concurred in judgment, but reached the conclusion based on a different approach than his colleagues. He found that the Pike balancing test is intrusive and shouldn’t be applied, and that the 21st Amendment trumps these balancing tests when looking at state powers to regulate alcohol transportation and importation.

 

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