By Kevin Walker
LANSING, Mich. – Multiple lawsuits have been filed in Michigan over the past 30 days regarding Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders shutting down most businesses in the state of Michigan, including greenhouses, nurseries, landscapers and garden centers.
The first lawsuit filed against the shutdown orders came on April 17, when plaintiffs from the nursery, landscaping and garden centers business segments sued the governor over her shutdown orders. However, some 10 days later, those lawsuits were put on hold after Whitmer revised and extended her “Stay-home, Stay-safe” order, which allowed Michigan’s greenhouses, nurseries and landscape businesses to reopen while following outlined safety guidelines.
“Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) supports Gov. Whitmer’s decision to safely reopen the state’s greenhouses and garden centers and permit landscapers to return to work,” said MFB President Carl Bednarski in a press release. “These common sense changes are the first step to restarting our economy and protecting the financial and social health of our state.
“Our farmers are businessmen and women who are innovators and entrepreneurs. They have the tools, talent pool and technology to quickly adapt and adopt new best practices with a stronger focus on public health to provide safe customer experiences.”
The lawsuit is currently on hold, said Amy Upton, the executive director of the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Assoc(MNLA). The suit may remain on hold for as long as two months. If Gov. Whitmer were to issue an order that retail garden centers and lawn care companies had to stop working, then the plaintiffs would demand an emergency hearing to seek redress, she said.
“We have not discussed whether we will pursue the lawsuit for lost income,” she stated in an interview last week. “Right now we just want to make sure that we’re able to keep working. We’re happy that we’re able to go back to work.”
Attorney John Bursch represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The revised executive order gave us everything we asked for,” Bursch said. “We were delighted that the governor was reasonable. It’s just unfortunate that it took a lawsuit to get us here.”
Bursch added he has “no doubt” the lawsuit was the reason behind the governor’s revised order. “It probably didn’t hurt that the judge commented he didn’t understand how someone sitting on a lawnmower is inconsistent with social distancing,” Bursch stated.
The MNLA comprises 1,000 businesses in the state of Michigan. A second lawsuit was filed against Whitmer’s economic lockdown order on Monday, May 4 by Congressman Paul Mitchell(R), a U.S. congressman from Michigan’s 10th congressional district. He filed the suit in federal court challenging the order, stating it is “far too restrictive and includes provisions that seem arbitrary and internally inconsistent,” according to a statement from Mitchell’s office.
According to Mitchell, the “public health crisis of the coronavirus is tragically real, and at the same time there is a widespread economic crisis going on. The Governor’s latest executive order is not constructive, and I join my Congressional colleagues in calling for her to reconsider this order.”
Two days later, the Republican controlled Michigan state legislature filed its own lawsuit against Whitmer’s shutdown order in the Michigan Court of Claims. According to the lawsuit, the governor’s “unilateral extension of her COVID-19 executive orders past April 30 exercises lawmaking authority that belongs solely to the Legislature.”
A seeming conflict in statutes exists in Michigan, where a 1976 law grants emergency authority to the governor, but with an explicit 28-day limit, extensions of which must be approved by the legislature. Although the governor asked for it, the legislature has not granted the extension. However, another state law, from 1945, also allows the governor to declare an emergency, but without the 28-day limit. Republicans say that the 1945 law refers to local, not statewide, emergencies. The governor disagrees.
In a matter running somewhat parallel to the Michigan situation, late last week the Wisconsin supreme court overthrew a similar statewide lockdown order, ruling that the state’s lead health official, department of health services Andrea Palm, exceeded her authority in issuing the order.