Petition for a Writ Far-fetched? Nope!

By: Dan Minutillo, APC

If a state regulatory agency with jurisdiction over the craft brew industry makes a decision that appears to be arbitrary and capricious, having a direct effect on your business, then, you have the right to petition a court for relief using a Writ of Administrative Mandamus. An unnecessarily fancy phrase meaning that a court of law reviews the administrative decision and decides if, under applicable law, the decision is not rational. Most times a writ is requested by an association or group of companies that are affected by the agency decision so that a positive result will affect many companies in the association or group.

STATE ADMINISTRATIVE AGENCIES

State administrative agencies with jurisdiction over the craft brew industry create policies that can affect your business. I recently wrote in this magazine about a Tennessee agency which passed a regulation indicating that only people domiciled in Tennessee for a certain time could get a permit to sell alcoholic beverages in the State.

For the purpose of this article, let’s say that an administrative agency in California, like the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC), passed a regulation indicating domicile restrictions to get a permit to sell craft beer om the State; that a company had to be in business in the State for ten (10) years and then that company could sell alcoholic beverages. This regulation is then challenged by you as arbitrary and capricious at the agency level, and the agency denies your challenge.  You argue that this domicile restriction is illogical, with no purpose other than to discriminate against out of state craft brew companies. You lose at the agency level, that is, the ABC reviews your challenge and denies it.

THE APPEAL; THE WRIT

That administrative decision (the denial of your challenge) by the ABC can be appealed to a court by “writ”, and you, the appellant, will win and ensure that this decision and underlying regulation is stricken if you can prove that the decision and underlying regulation is arbitrary, that is, without a rational basis.

So, there are a few criteria to get you into court to have the ABC decision (the denial of your challenge) reviewed and to win on your writ:

  1. That the decision/regulation was made by an “administrative agency” of a state (or of the Federal government), like the California ABC;
  2. Normally, that you have exhausted your administrative remedies. This means that if there is a method of appeal at the ABC, then you must first make that appeal and follow all other procedural rules regarding an appeal at the ABC before you bring a writ.
  3. That all of your ABC remedies have been exhausted and denied, and this denial must usually be in writing by the ABC (evidentiary issue).
  4. That you have standing to be heard by a court. Standing means that you are a “party in interest” which usually means that you, that is, your business has been affected by this ABC regulation/decision. You have standing if you will be or have been damaged by the regulation or decision. For example, if I teach math to high school students in a local school, I would not have standing to bring a writ in this circumstance because the ABC regulation/decision does not affect me. But, if you make or sell craft beverages, this regulation/decision does affect you, so, you have standing to bring the writ.
  5. That any applicable statute of limitation has not run. Most actions brought in a court of law must be brought to the court before a certain time period, that is the statute of limitations. Various statutes limit the time in which you can bring certain actions. Some statutes are as short as ninety (90) days from the time of the ABC denial of your challenge.
  6. That you can prove that the decision/regulation was made by the California ABC in an arbitrary and capricious manner, that is, there is no basis in fact or law to support the decision (the denial). It was whimsical and therefore an abuse of discretion by the ABC. The case law language is that a court on a writ will not disturb the ABC’s decision absent an arbitrary, capricious, or patently abusive exercise of discretion by the ABC.

THE STANDARD

Some courts call this a “rationality review”. Is the regulation/decision rational, that is, justified in fact and in law. No matter how you look at this, the key here is that the ABC did something that has damaged you and, after exhausting your administrative remedies, you are able to prove that the ABC’s decision is arbitrary and capricious—and you win.

THE REMEDY

I will discuss remedies, that is, what decision a court could make on a writ and how it could affect you, in a later article for this magazine.

Dan Minutillo has lectured to the World Trade Association, has taught law for UCLA, Santa Clara University Law School and their MBA program, and has lectured to the NPMA at Stanford University. Dan has lectured to various National and regional attorney associations about Government contract and international law matters. Dan has provided input to the US Government regarding the structure of regulations. He has been interviewed by reporters for the Washington Post and other newspapers.

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