Craft Brewery Sues Over Gov. Shutdown Harms

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By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on January 18, 2019 2:52 PM

The partial government shutdown has affected everything from international diplomacy to consumer rights. It has also affected small businesses, and one company has now filed suit. Atlas Brew Works, a craft brewery based in Washington D.C., claims the shutdown has violated its First Amendment right to speak to consumers because its labels for seasonal brew kegs are stuck in the label approval process at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The labels are required by law to receive federal approval for interstate shipment of the kegs.

In its lawsuit, Atlas Brew seeks an injunction to keep the attorney general from enforcing the law requiring this label. The brewery is being represented by Alan Gura, a famed civil rights litigator.

Brewery's "Continued Existence" Threatened Over Delayed Label Approval

The kegs in question aren't just any stock beer. They contain The Precious One, a seasonal brew of perishable apricot-infused India pale ale. The beer inside the kegs will rot if not consumed within a specific period of time. The label delay is affecting 40 barrels of The Precious One, which is valued at $5,000. The total planned run for The Precious One is valued at $15,000, and if that revenue is lost, the brewery's "continued existence" is threatened, because the lack of new approved labels "effectively shuts down further production of new beers and the rebranding of existing beers," according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The First Amendment Never Shuts Down

The labels for The Precious One cans have already been approved, and therefore it is highly likely that the keg labels would have been approved as well, had they made it through the review process before the shutdown. Therefore, according to Atlas, what seems to be approved free speech is not getting approved, and therefore infringing on the brewery's First Amendment rights, merely because of the shutdown. As the brewery so succinctly puts it, the First Amendment never shuts down.

If your small business is also being unduly impinged by the shutdown, contact a civil rights attorney. Though small businesses may not often need to rely on constitutional protections to guard their rightful business interests, drastic times can call for drastic measures.

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