June 7, 2017

Total Wine minimum pricing case dismissed

Flickr Creative Commons | Leslie
Flickr Creative Commons | Leslie

A federal judge has dismissed Total Wine & More's lawsuit over the state's mandatory minimum pricing laws, finding that federal antitrust laws cannot preempt the state law that establishes Connecticut's liquor pricing system.

In her decision, released Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall, who heard the case in the Connecticut District, said that whether or not the statutory and regulatory scheme implemented by Connecticut is "wise" is not a question for the federal court.

"Rather, the court can only be asked to determine whether the challenged provisions are preempted by federal law," she wrote. "Arguments as to the harm inflicted on consumers by this scheme are more appropriately directed to Connecticut's executive and legislative branches of government."

In August, Total Wine & More sued the heads of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) and the Division of Liquor Control, alleging that a 1981 law that requires retailers to sell liquor products at a minimum price above wholesale costs violates federal antitrust laws.

Unlike everywhere else in the nation, that means Connecticut alcohol retailers cannot set the prices of the products they sell.

In a statement, Total Wine & More Co-owner David Trone alluded to continuing future battles with the state of Connecticut over its concerns.

"The fact remains that this is a bad law for Connecticut's consumers that allows consumers in the state to be overcharged for alcohol," Trone said. "Total Wine & More will not stop fighting the package store cartel that rips off all Connecticut consumers. We will work diligently on behalf of consumers to ensure that this pricing scheme in Connecticut does not continue."

DCP deferred comment to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who sought unsuccessfully to update state law earlier this year.

"Changes to Connecticut's outdated minimum bottle laws would benefit consumers by allowing arbitrary prices to be lowered to fair market value and would in turn generate more revenue for the state," Spokesperson Meg Green said. "Governor Malloy remains committed to fighting on behalf of Connecticut consumers for fairer prices that benefit their bottom lines."

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