Empire Merchants, LLC v. Reliable Churchill, LLLP, No. 17-0887 (2d Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Empire a distributor of alcoholic beverages, is New York State’s exclusive distributor for popular brands like Johnnie Walker, Grey Goose, and Seagram’s Gin. Empire alleges that from 2008-2014, Reliable and (non‐party) RNDC, among Maryland’s largest liquor distributors, conspired with retail liquor stores in Cecil County, Maryland and New York City to smuggle liquor from Maryland to New York, in violation of New York liquor law. Empire sued Reliable and several Cecil County and New York retailers under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961, alleging that their bootlegging directly harmed Empire “because every case of alcohol smuggled into New York from Maryland was a lost sale by New York’s authorized distributors.” The defendants argued that the smuggling operation did not directly cause Empire to lose sales and that Empire had not adequately alleged proximate cause under RICO. The district court dismissed the case. The Second Circuit affirmed. Empire failed to allege proximate cause adequately. Empire adequately alleged a smuggling scheme, satisfying the first element of wire fraud and satisfied the third element of wire fraud, alleging “dozens of specific wire communications allegedly made by defendants.” The Supreme Court, however, has suggested the need for skepticism “to claims brought by economic competitors” and New York State was a more direct victim of the smuggling operation.