ELLSWORTH, Maine — Dan Brown, the poster child for local food rules in Maine, said he will have to file for bankruptcy if the judge who barred him from selling raw milk and other food doesn’t reverse her decision.
The state took Brown to court in 2011 for selling unlabeled raw milk from an unlicensed facility. In late April, Hancock County Superior Court Justice Ann Murray granted the state summary judgment, ruling that Brown had broken the law and issuing an injunction preventing him from selling milk without a license, selling raw milk without labeling it as such, and from “operating a food establishment without a license.”
On May 8, Brown filed a motion requesting Murray lift the injunction while his case goes through appeals. He also filed to request she amend or overturn her order for summary judgment. If the order were overturned, Brown’s case could go to trial.
A hearing was originally scheduled for May 16, at which Murray would have set penalties to be assessed on Brown for violating state law. That hearing has been postponed until the unresolved motions are settled.
In the meantime, Brown said the injunction has put him in dire financial straits. While he was specifically barred from selling any more raw milk products, the prohibition on operating a food establishment without a license also prevents him from selling any of his dairy products, baked goods, canned veggies, jams or jellies which make up the bulk of his income.
Brown said Friday that he’s going to sign bankruptcy papers on Monday. He said that because of the immediate loss of revenue caused by injunction, he can no longer afford his monthly bills and debt repayment.
“This was kind of the last straw that pushed me into this,” he said. “We were sending everybody a little bit [of money] every month, but now I can’t do it.”
Brown has shared custody of his 11-year-old daughter, who lives with him half the time, he wrote. So he’s also filed for federal welfare through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
The hardship placed on Brown is one of the arguments cited in the effort to convince Murray to overturn the injunction while appeals are pending. In the motion, Brown’s attorneys — David G. Cox and Sandra H. Collier — argue that Murray has the authority to “maintain the status quo” for the time being. The harm caused to Brown by the injunction “far outweighs” the state’s interest in immediate enforcement, they said.
In their request for Murray to alter or amend her order for summary judgment in the state’s favor, Brown and his attorney argue that she ignored the more than $20,000 Brown had spent on his farm under prior instruction from the state that his sales of raw milk from a farmstand were legal. Brown has contended that it wasn’t until a new interpretation of state law in 2009 that he was told he must be licensed.
Brown also says Murray exaggerated the “public health implications” of his raw milk sales, and that the court failed to recognize the disputed facts concerning the safety of raw milk, and of Brown’s products in particular.
He also took issue with Murray’s ruling that Blue Hill’s local food ordinance, under which Brown sought protection from state requirements, did not clearly intend to include milk in its definition of food.
“The court’s analysis of [Brown’s] argument commences with a terse, tortured reading of the scope of the ordinance in which the court questions and apparently concludes that dairy products are not ‘food,’” wrote Cox and Collier. “That odd proposition would come as a surprise to most people.”
Brown asked Murray to overturn her order, or at least to make it “prospective only,” which would still prohibit the farmer from selling his products but would not make him liable for penalties.
The state has until May 29 to file a response to the new motions. Regardless of how Murray rules, Brown is confident the case will end up in the same place, eventually:
“I don’t expect that she’ll remove the injunction, but I’m hoping I get lucky,” he said Friday. “I think this will end up going to the [Maine Supreme Judicial Court], in the end.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.