Judge Diaz of the Fourth Circuit found himself considering North Carolina business law once again, writing the unpublished opinion in The Country Vintner of North Carolina, LLC v. E&J Gallo Winery, Inc., which was joined in by Judge Davis and Judge Keenan. Before reaching the issues of North Carolina law, though, Judge Diaz needed to address abstention issues that only arise in federal court: whether the district court should have abstained under Burford or Thibodaux. The opinion, affirming the judgment of the district court in favor of defendant Gallo Winery. The court affirms the district court’s determinations that the plaintiff’s Uniform and Deceptive Trade Practices Act claim was just a repackaged Wine Act claim, and that the Wine Act claim failed.
Here is how the opinion begins:
We consider in this case whether, under the North Carolina Wine Distribution Agreements Act, (“Wine Act” or “Act”) a wine wholesaler’s contractual right to distribute an imported wine survives a change in the winery that imports the brand. The district court declined to abstain from resolving this issue in favor of a state court proceeding, and held that Appellant’s distribution rights did not survive a change in importers. The district court also dismissed Appellant’s separate claim under the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. We affirm.
Some key language regarding abstention:
[T]he district court was interpreting a straightforward regulatory scheme that had not been the subject of much controversy in prior state or federal cases. Further, it carefully distinguished prior cases in which we held that abstention was appropriate and found that the circumstances here were inapposite. Moreover, a 2010 amendment to the Wine Act makes it unlikely that the question presented in this appeal is likely to recur. In sum, Country Vintner has failed to overcome the heavy deference we accord district courts in deciding whether to abstain from hearing a case.