Empire Wine Bill Sent to Governor Cuomo

This week marks another development in the Empire Wine saga. On Monday, the bill that would limit the power of the New York State Liquor Authority (“NYSLA”) to enforce other states’ laws was delivered to Governor Cuomo. Introduced in March by Assembly Member Phil Steck (D-Colonie), Assembly Bill 5920A (A.5920A), would prohibit NYSLA from penalizing licensees for violating the laws of other states, unless the conduct in question (1) is a violation of the New York alcoholic beverage control law or (2) has resulted in a criminal conviction in another state.[1] The Governor has until December 11th to sign or veto the bill. If he takes no action, the bill will automatically become law.

The catalyst for A.5920A was NYSLA’s attempt to revoke the license of Albany-based retailer Empire Wine for shipping alcohol to customers in 16 other states. NYSLA claimed that all of these shipments were “improper” under New York law, even though nothing in state law or in NYSLA’s own regulations prohibits such activity and only one of the shipments appeared to violate another state’s law. When NYSLA issued Empire Wine a citation in August 2014 for “improper conduct,” it probably did not anticipate that this administrative proceeding would take detours into both the judicial system and the legislature. This protracted legal battle has been marked by drama, intrigue, and now suspense. Click the "Empire Wine" tag at the bottom of this post for the full story.

As I mentioned before, the Empire Wine case could have far-reaching implications for New York’s alcoholic beverage industry—and other states are tuning in. The conflict between Empire Wine and NYSLA is about more than out-of-state shipments. It’s about the limits of NYSLA’s authority; gaps in the legal framework that are exposed as changing technology and consumer behavior (e.g., ordering alcohol online and having it shipped to residences) emphasize choice and convenience; and how we adjust the framework. Stay tuned.


[1] The bill is silent as to inciting other states to prosecute alleged violations, as apparently NYSLA has done.