August 28, 2018 10:24:07 AM
JACKSON -- A judge ruled Monday that Mississippi lacks authority to sue out-of-state mail-order wine sellers that were shipping alcohol directly to state residents, and he threw out the state's lawsuit.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood sued the companies in December, saying they violated state laws banning direct shipments of wine and liquor for any reason. All wine and liquor is supposed to go through the Madison County warehouse operated by the Revenue Department's Alcoholic Beverage Control division.
Rankin County Chancery Court Judge John S. Grant III dismissed the lawsuit Monday. His written ruling offered scant details on his reasoning.
"When out of state companies make a conscious decision to unlawfully ship items into the state of Mississippi, we feel strongly that they should be held accountable here in Mississippi courts," Hood, a Democrat, said in a statement. "Our courts are the right place to enforce state law. We will appeal this decision."
Three companies that responded to the lawsuit -- Wine Express Inc. of Mount Kisco, New York; the Gold Medal Wine Club of Santa Barbara, California; and Bottle Deals Inc. of Syosset, New York -- argued that Hood lacked jurisdiction to haul them into a Mississippi state court because they weren't doing enough business in the state to be subject to its jurisdiction. They said they sell alcohol in their home jurisdictions, collecting taxes there. It's their position that Mississippi buyers own the alcohol and are responsible for shipment under the terms of purchase.
"The buyer is solely responsible for shipment of alcoholic beverage products," said an online Wine Express sales agreement filed in the case. "By placing an order, you authorize us to act on your behalf to engage a common carrier to deliver your order to you."
The Wine Express website on Monday said it doesn't ship to Mississippi or seven other states. A lawyer for three companies didn't respond to questions about whether Wine Express or any others had resumed shipments.
Hood argued the companies are wrongfully evading Mississippi laws, plus local decisions that ban alcohol sales in some areas. Hood said in court papers that the four companies shipped nearly 19,000 bottles of wine and alcohol to Mississippi between 2015 and 2017.
"These defendants claim that they can obstruct and violate Mississippi law and intentionally conspire with someone in Mississippi to knowingly ship, and that they can actually ship, alcoholic beverages into the state of Mississippi in violation of Mississippi law," Hood's office wrote in court papers
That ban goes against the increasing national trend of direct shipping, and Hood said many companies appear to be ignoring it. Officials in January said investigators sought to order wine or liquor from 63 sellers, and 22 shipped alcoholic beverages into the state. Revenue Commissioner Herb Frierson said one company even shipped a bottle of cognac to his office.
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