The second wave of the Granholm tsunami

Two states now have court cases that illustrate the second wave of the Granholm tsunami. Explicit discrimination in favor of local wineries relative to out-of-state wineries is, in theory at least, already washed away. We now see another crest on the horizon, aspiring to wipe out de facto discrimination –where the formal text of the challenged regulatory scheme is non-discriminatory, but the result disadvantages interstate commerce. The first case of that category to render a dispositive ruling was Huber Winery v. Wilcher, noted in a previous post.

On October 10, 2006 a federal district court in Tennessee consolidated two cases before it. One is the 2006 S.L. Thomas Family Winery suit, in which both parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings, the plaintiff relying on Granholm, and the state asserting inherent 21st Amendment powers. The state contends that its laws deny direct shipment equally to all wineries, making the suit a de facto discrimination case based on differential inconvenience, similar in that respect to Huber, in which the court rejected the state’s proposed leveling down to on-site sales for all wineries because of the greater burden of visiting a California winery relative to a local winery.

The other case is Jelovsek v. Bredesen, a consumer action filed about a month after the Granholm decision in 2005. In June 2006, the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss in Jelovsek, which had argued that a consumer, as distinct from a winery licensee, does not suffer the kind of harm to an interest required for judicial relief. That argument (challenging a plaintiff’s to “standing to sue”) seems unlikely to succeed in a properly conducted Commerce Clause discrimination case, in view of the Granholm opinion’s reference to a consumer right of access to national markets. In any event, the defendants appear to concede that the standing issue has been taken out of the S.L. Thomas Family Winery case by consolidation with Jelovsek.

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