In our last post we talked about legislative efforts to put an end to Connecticut’s minimum pricing laws which critics say make Connecticut retailers less competitive in the market than those in neighboring states.  Under the controversial law, liquor distributors in Connecticut must give the same price to all retailers, regardless of volume. Likewise, retailers cannot go below a certain price. Governor Malloy’s legislative proposals weren’t the only effort in the works to overturn these laws. However, they are now likely the only hope for those seeking change.

Separate from the Governor’s pending bills, retailer Total Wine & More filed a Federal lawsuit claiming that federal laws prohibiting state laws that restrict interstate commerce should preempt the Connecticut regulations. The challenged provisions have been in place for more than 35 years, and were enacted under the guise of discouraging consumption of alcoholic beverages by Connecticut residents.  The Federal Judge concluded, however, that she was bound by precedent to uphold the regulations.

The Judge did, however, suggest that the legislative efforts underway may be the proper solution to the issue raised by Total Beverages & More.  In dismissing the lawsuit, the Judge opined in a footnote, “[t]he court notes that Total Wine’s Complaint includes several allegations that suggest the Connecticut liquor regime is unfair to consumers. Whether or not the statutory and regulatory scheme implemented by the State of Connecticut is wise is not a question for this court.”  She continued, “[r]ather, the court can only be asked to determine whether the challenged provisions are preempted by federal law. Arguments as to the harm inflicted on consumers by this scheme are more appropriately directed to Connecticut’s executive and legislative branches of government.”

Opponents of the push to do away with the minimum price laws say the law protects small businesses, who might otherwise be put out of business by large retailers who are able to undercut their prices. However those seeking to change the law, including Governor Malloy, argue that such concerned are outweighed by the harm done to Connecticut consumers who are forced to pay arbitrarily high prices. It remains to be seen if the Governor’s legislative efforts will change the Connecticut regulatory scheme.


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