A wine distributor is suing the state of Illinois over its regulations hampering out-of-state wine sellers. 

The suit, filed Sept. 1 in federal court in Chicago, names as defendants Gov. Bruce Rauner and Attorney General Lisa Madigan as well as Illinois Liquor Control Commission Chairwoman Constance Beard and Executive Director U-Jong Choe. Plaintiffs are Lebamoff Enterprises, which operates 15 wine retail stores in Fort Wayne, Ind., and its co-owner Joseph Doust, as well as Irwin Berkley, a Cook County resident who argues his civil rights are infringed by a state law barring him from having wine shipped to his home from another state. 

According to the complaint, wine shipping is legal within Illinois, but companies may not export product into the state and consumers may not import from outside Illinois. Doust and Irwin argue the limitations violate federal laws on interstate commerce applicable to retailers and customers. 

Under the current Illinois law, wine retailers can obtain what’s known as an “off-premises license” from the state “and deliver wine directly to Illinois consumers any wine that it has in its inventory.” However, only retailers based in Illinois can obtain such a license. The complaint states that treating interstate sales, shipment and delivery differently than intra-state transactions is a “statutory scheme” that “discriminates against out-of-state wine retailers” and violates the federal Commerce Clause. 

Doust, according to the complaint “develops personal relationships with many of his customers, makes special wine purchases for them, consults with them about wine in person, by telephone and by Internet, and sells and delivers wine to them. Some of his customers have moved to Illinois but want to continue to do business with him.” 

He further explained the disadvantage his Illinois customers face because some of the wines they want him to provide “are difficult to obtain because they are old and only sold at auction, available only in limited allocated amounts or only for a limited time, or scarce because of their popularity.” 

Doust argued the Illinois law puts him on unequal footing with regard to Illinois citizens “and therefore violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause in Article IV of the United States Constitution.” 

In addition to a declaration that the Illinois law is unconstitutional, Doust, Berkley and Lebamoff seek an injunction preventing the state from enforcing the law and “requiring them to allow out-of-state wine retailers to sell, ship and deliver directly to consumers in Illinois.” They are not objecting to the state’s right to collect tax due on wine sales, but do seek compensation for legal fees and any other relief the court deems appropriate. 

Attorneys for the plaintiffs are Epstein Cohen Seif & Porter, of Indianapolis; and Berger, Newmark and Fenchel, of Chicago.:

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