Skip to content

News

N.Y. Beer Franchise Rights and Improper Termination

Many states, including New York, have alcoholic-beverage franchise laws. These laws are intended to promote stability and fairness among suppliers and wholesalers. They address a perception that the supplier has much more power in the relationship than the wholesaler by requiring the supplier have “good cause” before it may terminate a distribution agreement with a wholesaler. Which beverages are subject to a franchise law, what constitutes “good cause,” and the consequences that will result from a termination that fails to meet that standard varies from state to state. 

Often, a supplier will enter into an agreement with a single wholesaler or importer that then appoints multiple distributors and sub-distributors in other states. This means there is often never a direct contractual relationship between the supplier and the wholesalers that distribute its products. This direct relationship is known as “privity of contract.” This raises the question, “Will a wholesaler obtain franchise rights without privity of contract with the supplier?”

New York has a beer franchise law and in a recent case the Second Department of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, called JRC Beverage, Inc. v. K.P. Global, Inc., Case No. 2021-01286, addressed this question.

The plaintiff in that case is a beer wholesaler that distributed certain brands of beer produced by a South Korean brewery. Its distribution rights did not come directly from the brewery. Rather, they came from an importer appointed by the brewery. After that importer entered into a distribution agreement with the New York wholesaler, the brewery replaced the importer based upon a claimed breach of contract. 

When the new importer replaced the initial New York wholesaler, the initial wholesaler sued the new importer, the new wholesaler and the brewery.  It based this claim on New York’s beer franchise law, Alcoholic Beverage Control Law (“ABCL”) § 55-c. The brewery and new importer claimed they had no business no privity of contract with the initial wholesaler. 

The court opined that New York’s beer franchise law does not require a relationship between the supplier and the wholesaler. Once appointed, the beer wholesaler has vested franchise rights that include the right to continue to distribute the brand.

The court based its decision on ABCL § 55-c. It looked to the definition of “brewer” and the definition of “successor to a brewer.” These terms are broadly defined in the statute. The term “brewer” includes an “importer” or the “agent” of an importer “who sells or offers to sell beer to a [New York] beer wholesaler.” And a “successor to a brewery” means anyone who “acquires the business or beer brands of a brewer” by way of a variety of means and to varying degrees.

The court also focused on subsection 4 of the statute, which provides, “No brewer may cancel, fail to renew, or terminate an agreement unless the party intending such action has good cause for such cancellation, failure to renew, or termination….”

So, the question for the court was whether the new importer was a “brewery in successor” to the original importer, who was a “brewery” covered by the franchise law. Because this was a case of first impression, the court looked to see how other jurisdictions handled the issue: “While these other courts have generally favored the position of the importer over that of the wholesaler, their determinations turned heavily upon the specific language of the state statutes at issue.”

The court went on to say, “Here, based upon the specific language of New York’s statue, we conclude that the plaintiff’s position is correct. Contrary to the defendants’ contention, nothing in the definition of “successor to brewer’ requires privity of contract between the successor and the entity it is succeeding.”  

Thus, in New York, if a brewer appoints an importer and the importer appoints a wholesaler, that wholesaler has franchise rights under the beer franchise law and cannot be terminated without good cause. 

Approximately 20 states have laws granting franchise rights to wholesalers in one or more types of beverage alcohol. Each of these states has its own rules regarding the circumstances under which a wholesaler may be terminated. The lesson is clear. A supplier should examine what franchise laws, if any, apply in each state in the territory granted to a wholesaler and importer. Franchise laws may be a minefield for the unwary.

Keven Danow is an attorney representing members of all three tiers of the Beverage Alcohol Industry and a member of the firm of Danow, McMullan & Panoff, P.C., 275 Madison Ave, NY, NY 10016 (212-370-3744). Website: dmppc.com; email: kdanow@dmppc.com. Brian Fink is an associate of the firm of Danow, McMullan & Panoff, P.C. and is admitted in New York and Washington State.  Email bfink@dmppc.com.

This article is not intended to give specific legal advice.  Before taking any action, the reader should consult with an attorney familiar with the relevant facts and circumstances.

Written by

Keven Danow

Founding and Senior Partner
Read bio

Categorized in

Latest News

Stay informed on the critical current issues impacting the beverage alcohol industry

city skyline across body of water during daytime

New Jersey’s Recycled Content Law and Alcoholic Beverages

New Jersey’s Recycled Content Law was enacted to stimulate recycling markets by requiring food and beverage manufacturers to meet recycled-content standards in their product packaging.

assorted-color bottle lot on shelf

How We Got Here

Governor Hochul and the New York Legislature empaneled the NYSLA Commission to Study the Reform of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law.

clear glass bottle with red liquid

New Liquor Laws

Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed several liquor-related legislative bills into law. This edition of Know the Law covers those changes most pertinent to licensees.

Ready to get started?

Attorney Advertising: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.
The Danow Group PLLC is the successor to Danow, McMullan & Panoff, P.C.
The Danow Group PLLC is a professional limited liability company formed under the laws of the state of New York.
© 2024 All Rights Reserved, The Danow Group, PLLC
web development new york