The Minnesota Court of Appeals heard oral argument earlier this month in the case of a Lake Shore waffle shop challenging a temporary injunction aimed at preventing it from operating without a license, revoked in December 2020 for violation of an executive order related to the pandemic.
Arguing on behalf of the Iron Waffle Coffee Co., attorney Richard Dahl sought to argue that the Minnesota Department of Health lacked the authority to revoke food and beverage licenses in response to violations. executive orders from Gov. Tim Walz in the first place, citing a number of state laws he said collectively define emergency enforcement.
Dahl also argued that the health department failed to properly notify owner Stacy Stranne of the revocation — only doing so by mail and not in person — which negated her ability to challenge the action through of an administrative hearing. He further said the district court erred in issuing the temporary injunction on the company, given that Walz’s orders were no longer in effect as of May 2021.
“It’s a void order,” Dahl said in a recording of the pleadings posted on the Minnesota Judiciary Branch website. “It is an order that they have no power to enforce anything.”
The appeal comes amid an ongoing civil lawsuit against the Iron Waffle, first initiated in December 2020 by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the Minnesota Department of Health. The lawsuit was the next step at the time after months of inspections, fines and other administrative actions that failed to stop the company from disobeying executive orders regarding mask use and restrictions on indoor catering while continuing its activities.
Judges presiding over the case have since granted the state’s motions for a temporary injunction and contempt of court to keep the business open and selling food and drink, despite not don’t have a license. So far, the company faces $120,000 in fines – $2,000 for each day the health department documented the Iron Waffle opening after the license was revoked.
Judge Jeanne M. Cochran, one of three appeals court judges who heard oral argument Dec. 7, said Dahl’s presentation was intended to challenge the basis for revoking the license itself. even rather than the case in the district court, which made its decision to issue the temporary injunction based on the fact that the restaurant did not have a license to operate.
“The complaint was based on an unlicensed operation, and so that was the subject of the district court proceeding,” Cochran said. “What legal authority can you point to that would give the district court the power to hear a challenge in this proceeding of the decision of the Department of Health – the underlying decision to revoke the license? Because… the law is clear that if you want to challenge the revocation of the license, it must be done by requesting a dispute hearing.
Dahl said the district court always has the ability to challenge subject matter jurisdiction, or the power of a given court to hear a given complaint brought before it.
“I went to the University of Chicago, which is one of the top 10 law schools, and the first thing they taught us was that jurisdiction in law is always questionable,” Dahl replied. “It’s ridiculous to even discuss this. Are you saying, as a judge, that jurisdiction ratione materiae is not questionable at any time and in any place? I’ve never heard a judge say something so ridiculous, if you want my honest opinion.
Judge Francis J. Connolly asked Dahl to explain the reasoning behind his argument that Iron Waffle should have received in-person notice of the license revocation, or else business owners’ due process rights have been lost. been violated. Dahl acknowledged that state law does not specifically require in-person notification, but said courts have the ability to interpret statutes to determine people’s rights.
“When I refer to the administrative code, it has, you can mean by mail, a personal service – it has all the possibilities,” Dahl said. “And as this court knows, often in the administrative code it doesn’t say anything, and so the court has to interpret that. And one of the indications that I think the court should consider with my argument on this point is that the usual law enforcement agency is entitled to deference.
“The (Ministry of Health) agency didn’t serve you a case – a case – that said they were entitled to deference. Do you know why they didn’t say that? Because they weren’t entitled to deference. … They cannot revoke licenses at will.
— Lawyer Richard Dahl
Arguing on behalf of the state, Assistant Attorney General Kaitrin Vohs dismissed Dahl’s arguments as irrelevant to the proceedings.
“This case is clear and simply involves a restaurant, the Iron Waffle Coffee Co., which, as you mentioned, operates without a license,” Vohs said. “The Iron Waffle is trying to shift the hearing, and really this matter in general, to the governor’s authority under Minnesota’s emergency management law during an emergency, a peacetime emergency. . But the real purpose of this case is that the restaurant was operating without a license.
“…The department has determined that this poses a threat to public health. … Very simply, the department sought a court order ordering the Iron Waffle to comply with the law, as all other restaurants in the state of Minnesota are required to do.
Asked about the timeline of the notices and its impact on Iron Waffle’s ability to appeal, Vohs said the health department is of the view that personal service is not required.
— Deputy Attorney General Kaitrin Vohs
“Opposing counsel did not point to any statute where this is required and due process case law states that service by mail is sufficient if it arrives at the correct address,” Vohs said.
Vohs said that although the district court is not the appropriate place for Iron Waffle to question the legitimacy of the removal, Judge John H. Guthmann issued a thorough order and still answered some of these arguments.
“He addresses these issues and found that the service was appropriate, the department had the authority to revoke the license in the first place, and so this court has the benefit of a very detailed order that addresses all of these issues,” said said Vohs. .
— Lawyer Richard Dahl
In a rebuttal, Dahl questioned the state’s definition of irreparable harm caused by Iron Waffle’s opening.
“My customers remained closed from the time they received the order in December until May, after the orders were revoked. The client has not opened during this time whatsoever. And frankly, in the cases I cited, she should have automatically had her license reinstated or the state should have granted her a new license,” Dahl said. “They can’t hold a grudge hating my client and refusing to give her a new license, which she requested, just because they don’t like my client and she challenged Jan Malcolm and the State of Minnesota. That is not how the law works. »
The case was also presided over by Appeals Court Judge Tracy M. Smith. The court of appeal has 90 days from the date of the pleadings to render a decision. The next scheduled hearing in the civil lawsuit is a status/schedule conference scheduled for 3 p.m. on January 10.
Separately, Iron Waffle is challenging the denial of its new food and beverage license application through the Office of Administrative Hearings. This process has not yet reached the stage of hearing evidence, according to a staff lawyer at this office.
In the year since the license was revoked and the three months since the final contempt fines were imposed, the cafe has frequently advertised its hours of operation on its social media accounts. A message posted on Tuesday, December 21 stated, “Let’s make your Christmas special! We will be open on December 23, 24 and 26!! Come visit us or place an order for cinnamon or caramel buns!! »
Brainerd Dispatch Community Editor Chelsey Perkins can be reached at 218-855-5874 or [email protected] Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.
1/5: Judge Tracy M. Smith
2/5: Judge Francis J. Connolly
3/5: Judge Jeanne M. Cochran
4/5: Stacy Stranne, owner of Iron Waffle Coffee Co., pictured here in a 2016 file photo. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch