Judge Keeps TRO Against UP Restaurant In Place; Orders Civil Contempt
January 12, 2021
A temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping a Calumet restaurant from operating without a food license will remain in place, an Ingham County judge said Friday.
Circuit Judge Wanda Stokes held Café Rosetta in civil contempt and ordered a $2,500 fine for its continued violation of the court’s order to stop serving food without a license. However, the judge immediately suspended the fine, allowing time for the restaurant’s attorney and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s (MDARD) attorney to submit written briefs on whether the fine should stand.
“When it comes to court orders . . . civil disobedience is not an option; it just absolutely is not,” Stokes said during a Zoom hearing Friday.
On Dec. 31, Stokes granted MDARD’s request for a temporary restraining order calling for the restaurant to cease operating without a valid food establishment license, which was suspended on Dec. 2 for violating Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) emergency orders closing indoor dining due to the pandemic.
At the time, Houghton County was listed in the highest-risk category for COVID-19, according to the state.
Assistant Attorney General Danielle Allison-Yokum argued the TRO and contempt charge was necessary because the restaurant’s owners continue to ignore court orders and MDARD’s license suspension by remaining open to indoor dining. Such action, she said, harms MDARD, who is authorized to issue or revoke food establishment licenses.
“We are a society of laws,” she argued. “We may not always agree with them, but we do not get to pick and choose the ones we abide by.”
Allison-Yokum then read a letter from another UP restaurant — which Café Rosetta’s attorney, David Kallman, objected to — that expressed sympathy for the café’s position, but took issue with the restaurant’s “false dichotomy” that it was “being forced out of business.”
Kallman argued MDARD is not harmed by his client’s continued operation, and the department is trying to enforce DHHS Director Robert Gordon’s emergency order prohibiting indoor dining “by bootstrapping” it into MDARD’s authority, which is not appropriate.
Allison-Yokum disagreed, arguing that Café’s continued operation “undermines the entire regulatory authority” given to MDARD to protect the public.
“So the harm to MDARD is its very existence, isn’t it?” Stokes asked.
“It is,” Allison-Yokum replied. “. . . There would be no incentive for any regulated industry to go and get a license from MDARD if MDARD’s not able to enforce their orders (and) if it’s not able to require compliance there’d be no reason for someone to come to the department and ask for the permission that the law requires and then the law, its relevance is diminished,” she added. “. . . Our entire system depends on laws that govern us as a society. When those laws disappear it harms us all, not just a . . . regulatory authority.”
Rep. Greg Markkanen (R-Hanover) told MIRS the restaurant owner has an inspiring story as a single mother of six children who turned a tattered building into a successful business that employs 30 local people in a county with a high unemployment rate.
“If she shuts down, where are these people supposed to find work?” he asked.