On appeal, federal judge again rejects liquor store's challenge to state law


For the second time, a federal judge has rejected a Baltimore County liquor store's antitrust challenge to the Prohibition-era laws governing distribution of alcoholic beverages in Maryland.

Beltway Fine Wine & Spirits in Towson, one of the state's largest package stores, argued that state efforts to promote temperance unfairly discouraged competition, but U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin ruled last week that Maryland's controls on liquor pricing and distribution are lawful.

"The state's interest in protecting the health, safety and morals of its citizens, in this case, outweighs the federal interest in promoting economic competition in the alcoholic beverage industry," Smalkin said in his decision.

The ruling, published Feb. 6, closely matched Smalkin's original findings in the case in 1999, when he first dismissed Beltway Fine Wine's lawsuit against the state.

The company appealed that decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordered a second review on the narrow question of whether laws blocking volume liquor discounts and requiring wholesale dealers to post their prices properly balanced the goal of temperance against the federal interest in promoting competition.

It was unclear yesterday whether Beltway Fine Wine, which is operated by TFWS Inc., plans a second appeal. Lawyers for the company were unavailable for comment.

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