Costco loses legal bid to overhaul state’s liquor laws

SEATTLE — Costco Wholesale Corp.’s effort to beat Washington’s post-Prohibition liquor laws in hopes of driving down prices for beer and wine came up short Tuesday, with a three-judge federal appeals court panel saying most of the rules are valid.

The ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals largely overturned decisions in 2005 and 2006 by U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, who found most of the rules — including minimum price markups — to be in violation of federal antitrust law.

Costco, based in Issaquah, sued the state in 2004, arguing that the rules blocked it from using its vast buying power to make beer and wine cheaper for Washington customers. Regulators insisted that the 21st Amendment, which ended Prohibition, gives states wide powers to regulate the sale and distribution of alcoholic drinks.

“It’s a real win for the state,” said assistant attorney general Martha Lantz. “As I see it, it’s affirming the choices the state has made for the past 70 years.”

Washington has a three-tiered system for distributing beer and wine. Breweries and wineries sell to wholesalers, at a minimum markup of 10 percent, and wholesalers sell to retailers, such as Costco, again at a minimum markup of 10 percent.

At issue in the case were nine laws governing the distribution of beer and wine; the appeals judges upheld seven of them, including the automatic markups, a ban on sales from one retailer to another, a ban on having alcohol delivered to a warehouse, and a ban on quantity discounts — Costco’s cup of tea.

The judges also upheld a requirement that manufacturers sell to all wholesalers at the same price, and that wholesalers sell to all retailers at the same price.

But the judges invalidated a requirement that manufacturers and distributors post their prices with the state in advance, and keep prices the same for a month.

David Burman, a lawyer for Costco, called that a central tenet of the state’s regulatory system and welcomed the decision to strike it down.

“I think it means the distributors will have to compete with each other more than they have in the past. … Distributors won’t be able to rely on that to keep prices high and stabilized,” Burman said. “Costco should be able to pass more of the discount on to its members.”

Burman acknowledged he was otherwise disappointed with the ruling, but said no decision had been made about whether to ask the 9th Circuit for a rehearing of the case.

Talk to us

More in Local News

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

Craig Hess (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)
Sultan’s new police chief has 22 years in law enforcement

Craig Hess was sworn in Sep. 14. The Long Island-born cop was a first-responder on 9/11. He also served as Gold Bar police chief.

Cars move across Edgewater Bridge toward Everett on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edgewater Bridge redo linking Everett, Mukilteo delayed until mid-2024

The project, now with an estimated cost of $27 million, will detour West Mukilteo Boulevard foot and car traffic for a year.

Lynn Deeken, the Dean of Arts, Learning Resources & Pathways at EvCC, addresses a large gathering during the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new Cascade Learning Center on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New EvCC learning resource center opens to students, public

Planners of the Everett Community College building hope it will encourage students to use on-campus tutoring resources.

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett police chief to retire at the end of October

Chief Dan Templeman announced his retirement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He has been chief for nine years.

Boeing employees watch the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event  from the air stairs at Boeing on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Boeing’s iconic Everett factory tour to resume in October

After a three-year hiatus, tours of the Boeing Company’s enormous jet assembly plant are back at Paine Field.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Rival gang members charged with killing Everett boy, 15, at bus stop

The two suspects are accused of premeditated first-degree murder in the death of Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Witnesses contradict gunman’s account of killing Monroe prison officer

Dylan Picard, 22, was driving on South Machias Road when Dan Spaeth approached his car to slow it down to avoid hitting a deer.

Most Read