Judge: Muskegon Co. landscaper violated state order

Coronavirus

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A Muskegon County Circuit Court judge ruled that a landscaping company was in violation of the statewide Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order after a cease-and-desist letter was issued by prosecutors.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson say they sent Landscape Supply the letter April 14 after authorities received complaints that the company was providing lawn care services and putting flyers on mailboxes.

The executive order states that landscaping, lawn care, tree service, irrigation and related outdoor maintenance companies may not operate unless the services are necessary for “the safety, sanitation and essential operations of a residence.” The AG’s office notes that the order does not forbid homeowners from taking care of their own yards.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy contacted Landscape Supply and other companies to inform them that they can perform essential tasks, like hauling waste and compost. The AG’s office says Landscape Supply misinterpreted the information and continued to conduct other tasks that were considered nonessential.

Ed Newmyer, an attorney representing the company, said its owners never meant to violate any order.

“Every time they asked our client to stop doing something, they did,” Newmyer told News 8. “They didn’t think they were because they were — they had put in place protocols — there was zero in-person aspects to the operation.”

Newman said the company had ceased most of its operations already but continued to deliver mulch. The owners believed that because the composting portion of its business was essential, selling the product would be allowed.

The company challenged the letter in court and Judge Timothy Hicks confirmed on Friday that the company violated the order. Hicks agreed with prosecutors that the company needs to stop its operations.

“We knew that it was going to be a huge uphill battle to try to have a ruling in our favor,” Newmyer said.

Prosecutor Hilson said the decision to take the case to court wasn’t meant to be heavy-handed.

“What really we’re looking for in this hearing that we had was the court to offer some clarification of the executive order,” Hilson said. “We felt compelled to really almost champion our small businesses that are just trying to survive during this time.”

Hilson said his office is not pursuing charges against Landscape Supply’s owners.

“We didn’t feel like this issue at this stage of the ball game deserved criminal charges necessarily,” Hilson said. “It really deserved judicial interpretation.”

Hilson isn’t celebrating the ruling. He said he was hopeful the order would have provided clearer interpretation of the governor’s orders.

Newmyer said he plans to ask the judge for more clarification in the case.

The AG’s Office says willful violations of the order can be punished with a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail for each offense. Businesses could receive additional licensing penalties. Violations of the order should be reported to local law enforcement agencies.

More information on rights as an employer or employee can be found on the state’s website.

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