How to Join Forces To Take on Wine & Spirit Distributors Southern-Glazers
The recent lawsuit against Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits filed this month in a California federal district court accuses the wine and spirits distribution giant of defrauding not just the plaintiff in the case, but retailers across the state and country. As I noted in a previous post, if even half the accusations in the suit are true you’ve got a degree of fraud and illegality that is shocking. Moreover, the complaints listed in the lawsuit include actions that retailers and restaurateurs have somewhat quietly acknowledged go on regularly.
I recently spoke with Kelley Gelini of Wakeford Law, one of the principal attorneys working on the case of Nguyen, et al. v. Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits now in the United States District Court of Nothern California. I asked her about the meaning of the case and efforts she is making to bring the case to class action status.
Why is this lawsuit of importance to the beer, wine and spirits industry in America, and not simply to the primary plaintiffs?
According to its website, Southern Glazer’s distributes more than 150 million cases of wine and spirits annually, and covers nearly 90% of the legal drinking age population in the United States, making it the country’s largest distributor of wine and spirits. As detailed in the lawsuit, Southern Glazers has engaged in a long term unlawful practice of using the account numbers of its own customers for illegal, fraudulent and anticompetitive purposes. It is clear that Southern Glazers is harming its own customers by these practices. Perhaps less obvious is the effect these same illegal practices have on suppliers who struggle to bring their products to market, and smaller distributors who are virtually crushed by Southern’s anticompetitive tactics.
This lawsuit has the potential to bring about powerful change in the wine and spirits industry at all levels of the 3 tier system.
2. In proceeding with the lawsuit, what kind of information are you seeking from retailers as well as others who have worked in the wholesale and producer sectors of the alcohol industry?
We would like to hear from any Southern Glazers customer who has received shipments of products from Southern that they did not order, or who was charged for products they did not order, or who was forced to purchase products they did not want in order to get those they did. We would also like to hear from any retailer who suffered tax implications from any of these types of fraudulent practices. We would especially like to hear from anyone who has documents such as statements or invoices which reflect any of the above-described practices.
We also invite any suppliers who are either currently or formerly represented by Southern Glazers and who believes their route to market was blocked or hindered by virtue of this representation to contact us. And finally, we would like to hear from other distributors who struggle to compete in the face of Southern’s anti-competitive tactics.
3. Can a retailer in California or outside the state join the lawsuit as a main plaintiff or as a member of the class you are gathering as part of the suit?
4. What prompted the filing of the lawsuit?
Initially, we were contacted by one retailer whose Southern Glazers account was fraudulently charged by Southern Glazers for products never ordered nor received. Once we began to investigate this particular retailer’s case, we were astounded by the sheer numbers of other retailers who have been damaged by these very same tactics.
5. What kind of response or feedback have you received from the industry, including from wholesalers, retailers, and individuals working in those sectors?
The response has been absolutely overwhelming. We have been contacted by literally hundreds of people including other of Southern Glazers’ affected customers, suppliers, and even distributors. There is a common theme here – hundreds, if not thousands, of Southern Glazers own customers who trusted Southern Glazers to treat them fairly, and hundreds, if not thousands, of customers who were harmed by Southern Glazers illegal, fraudulent and anti-competitive practices.
It’s hard to say how this lawsuit will end up. It is, however, far more likely that justice will be done if any retailers or restaurateurs who experienced any of what Ms. Gelini mentions comes forward and works with her and her colleagues.