As if dealing with a scofflaw last month, Judge Edward G. Smith hit Amos Miller with a hefty $250,000 fine with a 30-day payment deadline. Miller and his wife, from Bird-In-Hand, PA, own farms and a buyer’s club with sketchy records for food safety compliance.
Wednesday, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania judge decided to drop the pressure tactics against Miller and his Miller’s Organic Farm.
In a telephone conference, Smith adopted different tactics, saying he wants to “facilitate discussion between counsel regarding an amicable resolution of the outstanding motion to alter/amend the judgment and to permit the defendants the opportunity to demonstrate a good faith effort to come into compliance with the court’s orders. . .”
After finding Miller in contempt of court, Smith imposed the $250,000 fine on July 22 with a 30-day payment deadline. The deadline passed without payment from Miller, but Smith on Wednesday signed an order putting the $250,000 fine on hold “until further order of the court.”
On Aug 19, Miller’s attorney filed court documents suggesting his client is now complying with the food safety regulations, and his payment of the $250,000 fine should no longer be necessary. He wants the fine either waived or reduced.
Miller documented the steps he has taken to come into compliance by date:
- On or before Jul 22, Miller ceased the slaughter and delivery of amenable animals.
- On or before Jul 22, Miller ceased all amenable meat and poultry-related retail-exempt operations pending compliance with federal and state requirements of the Contempt Order.
- On Aug 4, Miller supplied USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) with the name of their proposed qualified, third independent party to conduct the inventory required by the Contempt Order.
- On Aug 5, information was posted on the Miller’s Organic Farm website as required by the Contempt Order.
- On Aug.18, Miller reimbursed FSIS for its enforcement costs as required by the Contempt Order, and FSIS confirmed receipt of $14,436.26, which was the amount owed.
After the Aug 25 telephone conference, Judge Smith “Tolled” until further order of the court, the deadline for the government to respond to Miller’s filings.
The next check-up for Miller is set to be a 2:30 p.m. telephone conference on Sept 27.
Christopher D. Carusone, Miller’s attorney, said in the Aug. 19 filings that the $250,000 fine “appears to be structured as a coercive sanction.” The Harrisburg, PA, attorney said the fine “is inconsistent with the extenuating circumstances that prompted Mr. Miller’s acts of noncompliance.”
Miller violated a previous court order by resuming his slaughter operations. He took that action after Belmont Meats told Miller it could no longer use Miller’s citric acid as an antimicrobial. In the documents, Miller said his actions were “provoked by a sudden change in circumstances, not by some evil desire to trick the government.”
In his motion to the court, Carusone asks the court to reduce the fine to “no more than $25,000.” Miller has raised at least $75,000 from supporters on the internet.
Carusone said the $250,000 fine “is excessive” and not the least coercive sanction reasonably calculated to win compliance with the court’s orders.
Along with the Contempt of Court finding, the government previously has entered the following findings of fact regarding Amos Miller and Miller’s Organic Farm.
(a) Amos Miller and his wife owned and operated Miller’s, an unincorporated business located at 648 Mill Creek School Road, Bird-in-Hand, PA;
(b) at its farm site, Miller’s had been slaughtering livestock or poultry, and then preparing, processing, storing, and/or distributing meat, meat food products, and poultry products;
(c) Miller’s sold its meat, meat food products, and poultry products that are subject to the Acts (known as “amenable products”) for commercial purposes and for human consumption to consumers in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States;
(d) federal inspection is required at such an establishment that slaughters livestock or poultry, and then prepares or processes amenable meat, meat food products, or poultry products that are capable of use as human food for interstate or foreign commerce, unless the establishment qualifies for an exemption from federal inspection;
(e) Miller’s had been operating its meat and poultry business without a USDA-FSIS Federal Grant of Inspection and (with rare exception) without taking its livestock and poultry for slaughter and processing to any federally inspected facility; and
(f) defendants had not yet changed Miller’s business model to attempt to qualify for an exemption from federal inspection under the Acts for any part of their operations.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)