McLeod County District Court. File No. T8-02-1801.
Considered and decided by Harten , Presiding Judge, Schumacher , Judge, and Halbrooks , Judge.
Provisions of the Minnesota Consolidated Food Licensing Law and the Minnesota Meat and Poultry Inspection Act restricting, respectively, the sale of food without a license and the sale of custom-processed meat are valid exercises of the state's police powers and do not impinge on any fundamental rights. As such, those provisions are constitutional notwithstanding a constitutional provision authorizing farmers to sell or peddle farm products without obtaining a license.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Halbrooks, Judge
Appellants Diane Marcella Hartmann and Michael Otto Hartmann challenge their convictions of selling meat without a license, in violation of the Minnesota Consolidated Food Licensing Law, Minn. Stat. ch. 28A (2000), and selling custom-processed meat, in violation of the Minnesota Meat and Poultry Inspection Act, Minn. Stat. ch. 31A (2000). Appellants contend that their activity was exempt from prosecution by operation of applicable constitutional and statutory provisions. We affirm.
The facts of this matter are undisputed. At all times relevant to this appeal, appellants owned and operated a farm in Gibbon, Minnesota, where they raised cows and hogs for market and slaughter. Appellants had the animals custom processed by Lafayette City Meats; the meat was then returned to appellants in packages labeled "Custom Not For Sale."
Between approximately May and December 2001, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) compliance officers - through surveillance and a series of controlled buys - determined that on the first Friday of each month, appellants were selling the custom-processed, uninspected meat directly to consumers from a van parked in a residential driveway; customers purchased the meat on both a walk-up and a pre-order basis. On December 7, 2001, an MDA compliance officer approached appellant Diane Hartmann and informed her that she and her husband were in violation of Minn. Stat. § 28A.04 (2000) (selling food without a license) and Minn. Stat. § 31A.10(4) (2000) (selling custom-processed meat). The officer issued appellants a written report of her findings and an order to discontinue the illegal sales.
By letter sent to the MDA on December 26, appellants asserted that their failure to obtain a license was constitutionally protected by Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 7, entitled "No License Required to Peddle," and statutorily exempted from Minn. Stat. ch. 28A (2000), the food-licensing law; they also asserted that their sale of custom-processed meat was statutorily exempted from Minn. Stat. ch. 31A (2000). Appellants further informed the MDA that its failure to rebut their assertions within ten days would signal its "agreement" with those assertions and render the "complaint [against appellants] void." The MDA did not reply. On January 29, 2002, appellants informed the MDA by letter that its failure "to comply timely to rebuttal [of the earlier letter]" placed it "under estoppel."
On March 8, 2002, the state filed a complaint charging appellants with one count of failing to obtain a license from the Commissioner of Agriculture prior to manufacturing, processing, selling, handling, or storing food, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 28A.04, and one count of unauthorized sale of custom-processed meat, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 31A.10(4). The complaint was mailed to appellants' home address but was returned unopened because appellants receive their mail through general delivery. When appellants failed to appear at the scheduled hearing, the district court issued warrants for their arrest, and they were arrested and served with the complaint. Appellants filed a motion to dismiss the charges, again arguing that their charged activity was protected by constitutional and statutory provisions; they also argued - as they had in their January 2002 letter to the MDA - that the MDA was "estopped" from prosecuting them by its failure to "timely respond" to their December 2001 letter.
After the district court denied appellants' motion to dismiss, the parties agreed to submit the matter to the court on stipulated facts pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 3. The district court ...