Saint Goose, a wine and spirits shop that opened in downtown Franklin last fall, has filed a lawsuit against the executive director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission after he had sent a “cease-and-desist” letter to the retailer earlier this year.
In his letter dated Feb. 2, Russell Thomas stated that Saint Goose “may be charging customers for product sample tastings at your retail package store in violation” of a Tennessee Code Annotated overseeing the liquor industry.
The lawsuit, which was filed by Saint Goose’s attorney, Thomas McFarland, on July 20 in the 20th Judicial District of Chancery Court in Davidson County, seeks a court hearing in lieu of the fact that the retailer has been denied any appeals to the TABC ruling.
“While Saint Goose does not comment on the specifics of pending litigation, its business operations comply with Tennessee Code,” Andrew Kilpatrick, co-owner of Saint Goose, said in an email. “This lawsuit seeks review of the Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s interpretation and application of those statutes to which all Licensees in this State are entitled.”
As part of its retail operations, Saint Goose offers immersive wine educational courses on-premise that are typically taught by co-owner Kate Ham, an in-house sommelier who holds a degree in culinary wine studies and holds the rank of Certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Course participants pay a reservation fee to hold a spot in a course and a fee for the course itself. Reservation fees are fully refundable to individuals who attend a course.
Saint Goose offers complimentary samples of the products it sells that are meant for sales, educational and promotional purposes.
All of Saint Goose’s tastings are available to the general public.
In early 2022, Thomas unilaterally ordered Saint Goose to stop certain activities that are essential to its business operations, “despite the fact that those activities comply with any reasonable interpretation of Tennessee Code,” according to the lawsuit.
“When Saint Goose petitioned for review of the Executive Director’s interpretation, TABC representatives stated that there is nothing ‘that requires the TABC to determine the rights or privileges of Saint Goose after the opportunity for a hearing.'
“In essence, Saint Goose is left in legal Purgatory, being dissatisfied with the Executive Director’s unreasonable interpretation of Tennessee Code, while simultaneously being wholly denied any opportunity for review of that interpretation.”
Saint Goose had requested the TABC to reconsider its stance later in February and received a response a couple of weeks later from its attorney, Ryan Mercurio. He confirmed in a letter TABC’s interpretation and that the message in the cease-and-desist letter stood firm.
Saint Goose had additional communications with Mercurio, but he continued to insist the retailer’s activities are not compliant with Tennessee Code.
The lawsuit contends that Saint Goose’s consumer samples, including those offered during courses, are “complimentary” as required by Tennessee Code.