Jim Porter: No booze sales at self-checkout stands
January 16, 2014
Many supermarkets, including several in our area, have customer-operated checkout aisles. The goal presumably is to avoid standing in checkout lines and lower labor costs.
It takes me longer in the self-checkout line because I don't have a clue. The helper always has to come to my rescue. It's faster to buy my Twinkies in the "15 Items or Less" aisle.
CUSTOMER-OPERATED CHECKOUT STAND
California's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control enacted a law to prevent liquor from being purchased through a customer-operated checkout stand. If they didn't, every 20-year-old in the country would be buying liquor on the self-checkout honor system.
Business and Professions Code 23394.7 recites: "No privileges under an off-sale license shall be exercised by the licensee (think supermarket) at any customer-operated checkout stand located on the licensee's physical premises."
That's legislatese for: You can't buy liquor at a customer-operated checkout stand, you need to go to the regular checkout stands with clerks. The ones with long lines, at least on weekends at Safeway.
YOU BE THE JUDGE
You be the judge. Does the above-quoted law prevent sales of liquor at self-operated aisles?
CA GROCERS ASSOCIATION
Judge Porter's interpretation of that code, notwithstanding its awkwardness, is: No liquor sales at the self-operated kiosks.
The California Grocer Association had a different view. The Association sued ABC arguing that when a customer is directly buying bread, butter, beans or liquor, it is no longer a "self-control" checkout stand because the self-checkout machine automatically stops a transaction unless it has a store employee's electronic permission to do so.
In other words, the purchase of liquor at that point, when the transaction refuses to go through, becomes store controlled for purposes of the sale of alcohol.
As one of the three Court of Appeal Justices noted, that interpretation of the statute is not "palpably unreasonable." I agree.
The Court of Appeal looked at the legislative history of Section 23394.7. As the code passed through the sausage-making-like new law process, it was clear the intent of the legislators was not to allow alcohol purchases except through face-to-face transactions with clerks — like cigarettes, spray paints and some over-the-counter drugs. No self-service liquor kiosk.
In the end, the Court upheld an advisory interpretation issued by ABC: No liquor sales at customer-operated checkout stands — with or without an attending clerk.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno. Jim's practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or http://www.portersimon.com.