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A trial judge in South Florida has temporarily blocked a move by Miami-based liquor manufacturer Bacardi U.S.A. to fire its principal New York distributor for the last nine years. Premier Wines and Spirits, whose legal name is Gallo Wine Distributors LLC, had asked Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Margarita Esquiroz for an injunction, saying Bacardi’s actions breached a 1998 oral contract and threatened its existence and the jobs of its 350 New York City area workers. Bacardi U.S.A., the U.S. subsidiary of Bermuda-based Bacardi Ltd., terminated Premier on May 1. That will now have to be undone and Premier, of Syosset, N.Y., restored as Bacardi’s principal distributor in the New York metropolitan area “pending the completion of the trial on the merits,” stated the judge’s Tuesday order. In reaching her decision, Esquiroz determined there is “a substantial likelihood” Premier ultimately will win at trial on its claims against Bacardi, which include breach of contract and unjust enrichment. “In the court’s view, Premier has presented adequate evidence, including Bacardi’s own letters, charts and other writings, to sufficiently document the existence of an investment agreement with Bacardi which could be viewed either as an independent agreement or as a modification of the 1999 distribution agreement,” the judge’s order says. According to court papers, until recently Premier distributed about 80 percent of Bacardi’s rum in New York City and nearby areas. That business involved “hundreds of millions of dollars” in sales. Premier alleges Bacardi and its New York branding agent, MHW Ltd., violated a 1998 oral agreement in which Premier agreed to contribute $5.3 million over six years to help Bacardi pay for its acquisition of several liquor brands, including Dewar’s Scotch and Bombay gins, in exchange for continued distribution rights. Bacardi described it as an investment Premier would later recoup. Premier initially sued in state court in New York. In February, Bacardi and MHW went to court in Miami-Dade County seeking a declaration of their rights under written distribution agreements between Bacardi and Premier in 1993 and 1995. Premier countered in Miami-Dade with its breach of oral contract allegation and demand for an injunction, and voluntarily dropped the New York case. Bacardi had labeled Premier’s accusations “frivolous.” And it had asked Esquiroz to dismiss the matter, and to deny the injunction request, on the grounds that a 1999 written distribution agreement between the parties had negated any previous oral contracts. Esquiroz, however, was not convinced. “While it is true that Premier signed the distribution agreement with MHW on July 1, 1999, it is also undisputed that both Bacardi and Premier acted upon and accepted the terms of the 1998 distributor investment plan, both before and after the execution by Premier of the 1999 distribution agreement,” says the judge’s order. “In fact, to date Premier has invested a total of $4.3 million pursuant to that plan, and Bacardi has acquiesced in that investment.” Premier is represented by Robert C. Josefsberg and Victor Diaz, partners at Miami’s Podhurst, Orseck, Josefsberg, Eaton, Meadow, Olin & Perwin, and Chester T. Kamin, a partner at Jenner & Block in Chicago. Bacardi’s attorney is Hunton & Williams managing partner Marty Steinberg in Miami. MHW’s lawyer is Dan Gelber, a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder in Miami and a member of the Florida House of Representatives.

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