Case Updates – Meadowsweet Dairy
May 6, 2010
The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund was successful yesterday in defending Steve and Barbara Smith of Meadowsweet Dairy LLC against the contempt charges brought against them by the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets.
Without even having to present any evidence, the Smiths and the LLC convinced Judge Gerald Connolly of Supreme Court, Albany County, that the contempt charges should be dismissed and that the underlying administrative search warrant that formed the basis of the contempt charges should be vacated. Indeed, before the hearing even began, the Department admitted it had no evidence that Barbara Smith was even on the premises when the warrant was executed and accordingly dismissed its charges against her.
“We are pleased that Judge Connolly followed the law, made the correct ruling, and rejected the Department’s arguments” said Fund President Pete Kennedy. “The case law on the Fourth Amendment is clear; warrants cannot last forever and the case law on contempt is clear, a person does not have any duty to assist an inspector to collect evidence against him or herself. We are glad for the Smiths and the LLC that this phase of their case is over” said Kennedy.
The case stemmed from a search warrant that was issued in December 2007, authorizing the Department to search the Smiths farm for evidence that raw milk and raw dairy products were being sold illegally, yet the warrant also included language that said it was “continuing in nature” indefinitely. The Department executed the warrant on two separate occasions in December 2007 and each time Steve Smith refused to lock the door on their yogurt processing room. “An administrative search warrant that does not authorize the use of force means just that” said Fund General Counsel Gary Cox “and thus Steve had no duty whatsoever to open or unlock the door.” The Department claimed that because Mr. Smith refused to unlock the door that he was in contempt of court. “The Department had no case whatsoever. The search warrant was not an order that compelled Steve to do anything. In fact, the Department was attempting to hold Steve accountable for their failure to obtain a properly worded warrant” said Cox.
The Court agreed and dismissed the contempt charges at the end of the Department’s case without the Smiths or the LLC having to present any evidence. The Court also agreed that an administrative search warrant cannot last indefinitely into the future and vacated the warrant. In the meantime, the Smiths and the LLC have appealed to the New York Court of Appeals from the lower Appellate Division decision that said the Department has jurisdiction over “every article of food” that is consumed. As events develop in the appeal they will be posted on the Fund’s website.