U.S. Court of Appeals denies Florida’s motion to modify wine shipment injunction

by | Aug 11, 2023

  • Florida’s attempt to modify a long-standing injunction on wine shipments was thwarted as the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled against the state.
  • The case originated from a dispute involving a group of consumers and an out-of-state winery contesting Florida’s beverage laws, alleging discrimination against out-of-state wineries by barring direct retail shipments to consumers.
  • The legal petition submitted by the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco aimed to narrow the injunction’s scope, excluding alcohol vendors and producers other than wineries.

Florida’s bid to modify a longstanding injunction regarding wine shipments has hit a roadblock this week as the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled against the state’s motion.

The legal dispute arose when a coalition of consumers and a winery located outside the state contested specific clauses within Florida’s beverage laws. These clauses were accused of unconstitutionally discriminating against out-of-state wineries by prohibiting direct retail shipments from wineries to consumers.

The plaintiffs contended that the regulations unfairly favored in-state wineries and were therefore unconstitutional. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that similar statutes were discriminatory against out-of-state businesses.

In 2006, the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (FDABT) consented to an injunction that prevented the enforcement of the laws, allowing them to directly ship to consumers in the state. However, a recent legal petition submitted by the Division sought to narrow the scope of the injunction and restrict its coverage only to wineries, excluding other alcohol vendors and producers.

“Florida’s statutory scheme allowed in-state wineries to sell and deliver wine directly to consumers—without going through a distributor or retailer—but prohibited out-of-state wineries from doing the same, reads the court’s opinion. “The State’s beverage laws afforded Florida wineries a unique advantage over their out-of-state counterparts.”

The central point of contention revolved around whether the scope of the injunction should extend to include all alcohol vendors and producers or remain limited to wineries. A District Court initially broadened the scope, a decision that the FDABT believed exceeded the injunction’s original intent, leading to a filed appeal to clarify or modify the injunction accordingly.

However, the Eleventh Circuit upheld the District Court’s decision, asserting that the appeal fell under prior legal precedent that permitted the modification of an injunction based on substantial changes in the law or facts. The court’s decision reiterates that while the language might have been added after the original injunction, it was well within the boundaries of the court’s authority.

The ruling received the praise of the National Association of Wine Retailers, which claimed the ruling upholds constitutional principles mandating a level playing field in Florida wine distribution.

“The result of this important decision is that Floridians will continue to have the right to buy and receive shipments of wine from both out-of-state wineries and out-of-state retailers,” said NAWR Executive Director Tom Wark. “It also means that Floridians will not see their access to literally hundreds of thousands of domestic, imported, rare and collectible wines removed.”


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