August 23, 2016

Liquor company sues CT over mandatory minimum pricing laws

Total Wine & More on Tuesday sued the state of Connecticut in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut over the state's mandatory minimum pricing laws and alleged restraint of trade and federal antitrust violations.

Connecticut Fine Wine & Spirits LLC, doing business as Bethesda, Md.-based Total Wine & More, is suing the heads of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection and the Division of Liquor Control, the lawsuit states.

The company claims in the lawsuit that it "has been prevented from offering the best prices by an anticompetitive regime of statutes and regulations that intentionally promotes horizontal and vertical price-fixing by Connecticut wholesalers of alcoholic beverages."

The result, the company states, are retail prices for wines and spirits around the state that may be more than 25 percent higher than prices for identical products offered in nearby states.

The situation constitutes restraint of trade and a violation of the federal Sherman Anti-trust Act, the company says.

In a statement, Edward Cooper, Total Wine & More's vice president, public affairs, says the state's "antiquated" laws must be struck down to "allow consumers the freedom to pay lower prices for wine and spirits."
Total Wine & More is America's largest independent retailer of fine wine, spirits and beer. At year's end, Total Wine & More will operate 150 superstores in 21 states with plans for further expansion.

DCP Commissioner Jonathan A. Harris and division Director John Suchy, are both named in the lawsuit. Neither would comment, said Leslie O'Brien, DCP's legislative director.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed in recent legislative sessions eliminating minimum pricing laws, which require retailers of alcoholic beverages to sell their products at a minimum price determined by the wholesaler industry. But Malloy's efforts have been rebuffed in the face of intense opposition from small mom and pop liquor stores.

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