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Class-action suit seeking up to $45M in refunds from Pa. Liquor Control Board gets big win; fees for ‘special orders’ disputed

June 17, 2022

Lancaster Online
By Chad Umble

Individuals, bars and restaurants statewide are a step closer to receiving refunds potentially worth tens of millions of dollars on orders of alcohol not carried at Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores, but which were required to be picked up there.

The Commonwealth Court recently overruled the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s objections to a class action suit that seeks the return of an estimated $25 million to $45 million the PLCB collected since 2017 through its $1.75-per-bottle handling fee on such “special orders.”

The Log Cabin restaurant in Warwick Township is the lead plaintiff in the suit, which also asks for the PLCB to pay back “pick up expenses” incurred by restaurants, specialty stores and individual customers that were forced to drive to a store because the PLCB didn’t allow direct shipments to a home or business.

“We just want to have the ability to get stuff delivered so we don’t have to drive somewhere to pick everything up,” said Kirk Liddell, owner of The Log Cabin.

A state law had directed PLCB to end its handling fees for special orders and allow direct shipping by June 2017. But the agency didn’t make any change until earlier this month when it notified wine and liquor producers that “new in 2022, suppliers wishing to deliver (special orders) directly to licensees may do so.”

Those simple words from the PLCB were the culmination of a 2-year-old legal dispute that has earned the agency stern rebukes from a variety of judges and left it in the crosshairs of the class-action suit that could force it to pay back the tens of millions of dollars in fees it collected as an unwanted middleman.

“When a state or state agency takes something that doesn’t belong to it, it can’t keep it,” said John G. Papianou, a partner at Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP in Philadelphia, and the lead attorney in the case.

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