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Maris suit is only the latest Florida dust-up for A-B.

As reported last week, the Maris Distributing Co. of Gainesville, FL, has filed a lawsuit to allow it to continue to distribute Anheuser-Busch brands. A-B has said that the distributor is deficient in several areas and has retained the right to terminate the distributor.

Maris Dist. reports that company executives were summoned to St. Louis in August to meet with several Anheuser-Busch executives. At that time, they say that Michael Brooks, vice president of sales for A-B, told them their business had become too profitable in a time when margins were under pressure. A-B executives then offered them s surprise purchase offer, and Mr. Brooks advised them to sell. But Maris executives say they rejected the offer, and a second offer in October. This was followed by a November notice from A-B in which the brewer said it retained the right to terminate the Maris A-B franchise in 60 days if "deficiencies" were not corrected. This month, the Marises fried their lawsuit.

Mr. Brooks was quoted as saying that A-B was "saddened" by the litigation, but he declined to address the Marises' claims.

Maris is not the first Florida A-B distributor to feel A-B's wrath, as the record shows:

* In 1995, A-B accused Jacksonville Distributor Robert Reed of fraudulent activity and worked to terminate him. He brought suit, and the two parties settled during the trial, with A-B buying out Reed. According to Dow Jones News, the company's Tallahassee distributor took over Reed's territory, creating an opening in Tallahassee for Susan Busch Transou, daughter of August Busch II, and her husband Tripp, to take over the distributorship there.

* In 1991, A-B sued its Orlando distributor, Wayne Densch, seeking ownership of the franchise. It lost, and Mr. Densch has since died, but A-B continues to litigate to take over the distributorship.

* A-B's Tampa distributor sued in July last year when A-B blocked its proposed purchase of the Sarasota wholesaler. The brewer subsequently sold the Sarasota business to another owner of its choice, and the court dismissed the Tampa wholesalers suit.

Mr. Brooks was quoted as saying that the previous cases in Florida are "totally independent and quite honestly unrelated" to the Maris action.

But lawyers for the Marises trace A-B's actions to the company's displeasure with Florida's beer franchise law, passed in 1987, which prohibits brewers from permanently owning distributorships and provides wholesalers with greater protection from termination.

They note that August Busch III personally lobbied Florida governor Bob Martinez to veto the bill.

According to Dow Jones News, on Mr. Busch's orders, most of A-B's Florida distributors left the Beer Industry of Florida, which had supported the bill, and formed a new competitive association.

Five A-B wholesalers, including Densch and Reed, remained in the Beer Industry of Florida, despite A-B's efforts. The Marises belonged to both groups, but as of now they are now the only A-B house still in the Beer Industry of Florida.
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Title Annotation:Maris Distributing Co.; Anheuser-Busch
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Jan 27, 1997
Words:485
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