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Some claims dismissed, but farmer's lawsuit against EL moves forward

Posted at 11:25 AM, Nov 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-21 11:25:06-05

A federal judge has ruled a Charlotte farmer's lawsuit against the City of East Lansing can move forward, but dismissed some of the claims made by Stephen Tennes.

Tennes, owner of Country Mill Farm in Charlotte, has said he won't allow gay couples to get married at his farm, which is a popular place for weddings. In response, East Lansing didn't invite him to sell fruit this year.

East Lansing says vendors must follow its civil rights ordinance, which bars discrimination. Tennes filed a lawsuit in May, saying his rights to free speech and religion are being violated.

East Lansing filed a motion to dismiss all nine claims made by Tennes. At a hearing on November 16th, a Federal Judge dismissed 4 of them.

The first claim made by Tennes argued the vendor policy is a content based regulation, and as applied to his farm, is unconstitutional. The Judge dismissed that claim saying letters sent to Tennes explain that 'the decision to deny the vendor license was made because of the Plaintiffs' conduct, not Plaintiffs' speech.'

The second claim dismissed was Tennes' 'overbreadth challenge', which argues several provisions within the vendor policy are overly broad. "That portion of the City's Code addresses speech that identifies prohibited conduct", the judge wrote in his decision.

Tennes' equal protection claim, which argued the city violated the Equal Protections Clause by treating similar vendors differently, was also thrown out. The judge said Tennes did not provide enough evidence to prove that point.

The last claim to be dismissed was Tennes' claim that because his same sex rule occurred outside East Lansing, the city was in violation of Michigan's Home Rule City Act. The judge ruled the city has not exercised it's authority outside of its boundaries.

Five other claims made by Tennes will now move forward.

The judge did allow Tennes to return to the farmer's market this fall while the case proceeded.