Trial expected this year for Michigan farmer suing city

January 25, 2020 GMT

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A federal trial is expected to begin later this year in the case of a Michigan apple orchard owner who sued the city of East Lansing after he was not allowed to participate at the city’s farmers market because he doesn’t allow gay couples to marry at his orchard.

The trial will follow a nearly three-year legal battle between the city of East Lansing and Steve Tennes, owner of The Country Mill.

U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney set the trial date for Sept. 14 after issuing an order last month that partially denied and partially granted requests for summary judgement from both sides.

Tennes had been selling at the market since 2010 when he was denied a vendor’s licence in 2017. City officials cited Tennes’ Facebook post explaining that his family’s religious beliefs prevented them from hosting same-sex weddings at the business.

Officials had modified the city-run market’s rules to require vendors to comply with East Lansing’s civil rights ordinance, which prohibits discrimination.

Tennes’ attorneys challenged East Lansing’s rules. The city argued that since the lawsuit filing, the council had changed the language in the ordinance that Tennes’ attorneys claimed was too vague.

But in his December order, Maloney wrote that “the city’s nondiscrimination policy covers topics that are not protected by similar federal statutes,” extending protections “beyond sex, race, color, national origin, age, and disability.”

The judge went on to note that the city ordinance “regulates speech based on the intent of the speaker, without consideration of any actual consequences.”

His order “correctly recognized that East Lansing’s ordinance was unconstitutionally vague,” Kate Anderson, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative nonprofit representing Tennes, said in a statement.

East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows has said the city opposes Tennes’ “corporate decision-making,” not his religious beliefs. The city said it will not comment further on the pending case.

A pretrial conference is scheduled for August.