Judge drops four of nine claims in Country Mill's lawsuit vs. East Lansing
After East Lansing requested a dismissal of the case, the owner of Country Mill Farms' lawsuit against the city will continue with four fewer claims than it began with since it was filed in May.
In August of last year, owner Stephen Tennes posted on the farm's Facebook page that he will not hold same-sex marriages on his orchard because of his religious belief that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. The city claims this violated East Lansing's anti-discriminatory policy, and in June, his East Lansing Farmer's Market vendors license was denied leading him to file a lawsuit. In September, Federal District Judge Paul Maloney ruled that he was allowed back to the farmer's market until the end of the season.
According to Michael Bogren, a lawyer defending East Lansing, the city didn’t believe Tennes had viable claims and that Maloney's response to the motion, dropping four claims and letting five proceed, won’t affect the litigation process.
“It means we have fewer claims to defend but in terms of how the litigation proceeds, there probably isn’t going to be a significant amount of difference in terms of the discovery that is done,” Bogren said.
Tennes made nine claims against the city, including violations of free speech, press, exercise of religion and the Establishment Clause, rights to Due Process, rights to equal protection, violation of Michigan's Home Rule City Act, violation of Article 1, Section 4 of the Michigan Constitution and a claim for unconstitutional conditions.
Maloney dismissed four claims, including: the claim that the city violated the Home Rule City Act, which states that city ordinances are only valid within city borders; the claim that the city's ordinance was unconstitutional; the claim that East Lansing violated Tennes' right to equal protection and the claim that the city violated his right to due process, meaning their vendor application for the farmer's market relied on vague standards.
The case continues to move forward with the discovery process and hearings.
“The city feels very strongly in its position and it will continue to vigorously defend the remaining claims,” Bogren said. “After the discovery process, we will file a motion for some re-judgement and if that is not successful then we will defend the case in trial.”
City Manager George Lahanas could not comment on active litigation .
Tennes' lawyer, Kate Anderson, could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.