Will District Court Check the MDA’s Power Over Us?

A phone conference was held on Tuesday, September 29th between Cook County Court Judge Michael Cuzzo, Lake View Natural Dairy (LVND) attorney Zenas Baer and the Assistant Attorney General Max Kieley who represents the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA).  Judge Cuzzo was to determine the nature of the upcoming hearing in this court case in which the MDA is attempting to force statutory rule (that does not apply) upon LVND who has a plethora of constitutional (and other) arguments against the MDA’s actions.

This hearing will likely be the last local district court hearing to be held in this matter.  The Court has already denied the MDA the power to have the owner of LVND, David Berglund, found in contempt for refusing to submit to an Administrative Order for Inspection (which is currently stayed).  The MDA was also denied the request that LVND be assessed a fine of $500 a day until inspections were held and be assessed fees for the previous failed inspection attempts.  The MDA’s attempt to use the court to force LVND to submit to the MDA’s will through economic threats was denied.  If the Administrative Order of Inspection is held valid, similar requests (including incarceration) could be requested again by the MDA.

During the current phone conference, Judge Cuzzo indicated that the State has the burden to establish several factual issues to resolve the outstanding arguments facing the court (whether the MDA’s police powers cover a “private dairy farm” that is not a Grade A/B dairy nor participates in commerce, but direct private associations with men and women):

  • The State has the burden to establish that they have a “health and safety” reason for the regulation of raw food products (MDA employees have testified previously that private citizens may bottle raw milk in their own containers, including dirty containers, but a private farmer may not bottle the milk in sterile containers).
  • The State has the burden to establish whether the regulation of raw milk sales is narrowly tailored to protect the private contract rights of the owner of LVND (and the private men and women who associate with them).
  • Lastly, the State has the burden to establish that they have a compelling interest to regulate these food products (which current science and facts does not support concerning raw dairy – see previous posts).

The Court suggested that it was uncontested that the owner of LVND and its customers hold a deep belief concerning their decision to purchase raw natural food products and the State did not claim otherwise.

Judge Cuzzo indicated that the hearing on Tuesday, October 13, 2015 would be a  hearing during which arguments would be made between the attorneys concerning the evidence already submitted through previously filed written affidavits (click here for an article containing those documents).  As I understand the issues, the MDA’s arguments are weak and overreaching concerning the original intent of many of the statutes they have based their arguments upon.  During previous cases (MN v. Hartmann case testimonies provided in previous post links) MDA inspectors have had different interpretations of what statutes they are relying upon for their police powers and even what the same statutes mean.  This is because they are relying on statutes that were passed for purposes other than controlling an “ordinary dairy farm,” and the MDA is now attempting to incorrectly apply these statutes to LVND.

After the hearing, it is likely Judge Cuzzo will later file a written ruling that will be the end of this case locally.  Either the MDA will be held in check and their police powers rightly contained within their limits of statutory authority or the MDA’s Administrative Order for Inspection will be held valid.  Either result is likely to lead to an appeal, which could result in further hearings being held over 100 or more miles away.  This will likely be the last chance for supporters to gather locally in support of their individual rights of association or to show support of LVND (and all small farmers/gardeners) to continue offering its products.

The hearing is scheduled to start at 10:00am during which the State/MDA will present their argument for 10-15 minutes.  LVND will then be given 30 minutes to respond and the State/MDA will have 20 minutes in rebuttal.  Judge Cuzzo stated he believed the hearing will be finished before noon on Tuesday.

Please consider attending this hearing in a show of quiet support for all of our individual rights.  There will be an informational briefing after the hearing from LVND’s attorney about what occurred during the hearing.  See – Court Date: Tuesday, October 13th, 2015 at 10:00 AM for Lake View Natural Dairy v. MDA - for more information.