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by Faith DeAmbrose
On February 1, attorneys for Dan Brown of Gravelwood Farm in Blue Hill filed a formal response to a lawsuit brought by Maine’s Attorney General’s office on behalf of the Maine Department of Agriculture. The response denies the allegations in the lawsuit and makes a number of counterclaims.
Brown is represented by Ellsworth attorney Sandra Collier and by David Cox of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund in Virginia.
Brown, who has operated the 100-acre farm since 2000, was cited on three counts:
Count 1—The defendant has sold or offered to sell milk or milk products to other persons, without a milk distributor’s license, in violation of 7 M.R.S. 2901-C.
Count 2—The defendant has sold or offered to sell unpasteurized milk in a container that is not labeled “Not Pasteurized” in violation of 7 M.R.S. 2902-B.
Count 3—The defendant has operated a food establishment without being licensed for that purpose in violation of 7 M.R.S. 2167.
As for Count 1, Brown’s attorneys deny that Brown is a “milk distributor,” and therefore would not be required to obtain a milk distributor’s license.
For Count 2, Brown’s attorneys claim that while the individual bottles of milk sold at Brown’s farm stand and at Farmers’ Markets were not labeled as “not pasteurized,” Brown “has an 8 1/2 by 11 sign posted that said ‘our milk is 100% raw and is not pasteurized or homogenized.’”
On Count 3, Brown’s attorneys deny that Brown operates a food establishment or needs a food establishment license.
In the counterclaims, Brown’s attorneys cite the Maine Constitution, Maine statutes, including its “home rule” authority, and the Blue Hill-enacted Local Food and Community Self-governance Ordinance. Each of the counterclaims builds upon various aspects of the cited documents, asserting that Brown’s basis for operating as he has been are rooted in these documents, and are not pre-empted by the state’s laws as they currently exist.
Brown’s attorneys ask that the complaint filed by the Attorney General’s office be dismissed, and that his attorney fees be assessed to the plaintiff, as well as “any other relief the court feels is just and reasonable.”
According to attorney David Cox, “the parties are now in the discovery phase of the lawsuit.” Discovery is a legal process that follows the filing of court documents and includes the gathering of evidence. It typically includes deposition, and the sharing of documents with the opposing party of a lawsuit. “Once the parties have finished discovery, I would think either party could file a motion for summary judgment in an effort to obtain a judgment before going to trial, based on the evidence that exists after discovery is completed,” explained Cox.