Amos Miller and Miller’s Organic Farm — found in contempt on June 16 of a federal court’s 2019 injunction order and 2020 consent decree — are learning civil contempt sanctions can be costly. They may even include incarceration in federal prison.
The court wants Miller to pay a $250,000 fine for contempt and reimburse USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s investigative costs incurred during May and June of this year of $14,436 within the next 30 days. If he does not make prompt payment, there is a warning in the court’s order about what might happen to Miller.
“In order to effect defendants’ future compliance, by making them aware of the seriousness of their violations and the consequences for future violations, defendants are ordered to pay to the United States, within 30 days of the date of entry of this Order — and pursuant to written instructions that the United States will provide to defendants — a fine of $250,000, or face further monetary and other penalties, possibly including imprisonment of Amos Miller,” the order warns.
And Judge Edward G. Smith of the Eastern District of Pennslyvania is not accepting the depiction of Amos Miller and Miller’s Organic Farm as a small-scale operation.
Instead, the farming operation that Miller runs from Bird-in-Hand, PA, is shown to be “significant and interstate” with interstate sales of meat, poultry, and other food products.
“In addition to his original Bird-in-Hand, PA, farm, Mr. Miller owns an adjoining farm that he purchased for $1.45 million in September 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Miller testified that he financed $1.4 million of the purchase price. He thus apparently put down $500,000 at the time of purchase last year,” according to court documents.
Also disclosed is Miller’s 50 percent co-ownership of Burke’s Garden Farms in Tazewell, VA. He purchased ownership of the Virginia farm in 2015 for $2.5 million.
Miller has a $200,000 line of credit and is currently making “significant capital improvements” at the Bird-In-Hand farm, including a large building to accommodate his daughters’ upcoming weddings. Miller testified building for the weddings will cost $100,000 to $200,000.
- Defendants Amos Miller and Miller’s Organic Farm have engaged in conduct, as set forth in the findings, that violates the Meat Act, the Poultry Act, the Injunction Order, and the Consent Decree.
- In violation of the Acts, the Injunction Order, and the Consent Decree — on at least May 18, 2021, May 21, 2021, and May 25, 2021 — Miller’s slaughtered and at least partially processed, without federal inspection, amenable beef livestock, hogs, and chickens that were capable of use as human food, for the purpose of selling and offering for sale resulting meat food and poultry products in commerce to Miller’s buyers’ club members.
- At least a portion of those illegally slaughtered products that were beef products was adulterated, in violation of the Meat Act, because the products contained Specified Risk Materials (SRMs) that Miller’s had not removed.
- Miller’s illegal slaughtering activity continued — in violation of the Acts, the Injunction Order, and the Consent Decree — even after FSIS told Amos Miller, during a May 25, 2021, site visit that his slaughtering activity was illegal.
- Miller thereafter continued to purchase and accept from other locations live amenable animals for slaughter and sale or offer of sale.
- In violation of the Acts and the Injunction Order, Miller’s does not maintain timely, detailed records that fully and correctly disclose and document, for amenable animals and resulting products: (a) animal purchases; (b) animal slaughter dates; and (c) other meat- and poultry-related business transactions, including the sales of Miller’s amenable meat and poultry products.
- For amenable livestock, Miller’s, in violation of the Acts, does not maintain required ground beef grinding logs or records documenting the ages of slaughtered cattle, the removal of SRMs, or the disposal of SRMs.
- Defendant Amos Miller, the alter ego of defendant Miller’s Organic Farm, has had knowledge of the court’s Injunction Order and Consent Decree but has persistently disobeyed those orders: (a) in ways that are not merely technical or inadvertent; (b) despite compliance with the orders being both required and feasible; and (c) despite FSIS continually offering to assist him in coming into compliance and, in fact, meeting with him in late 2020 in Lancaster, PA, to respond to his questions about legal requirements.
- Miller has continued illegally to co-opt FSIS’s role and to seek to act as a law unto himself.
- Defendants’ continuing failures and refusals to comply with this court’s Injunction Order, the Consent Decree, and the Acts have flouted this court’s authority and the rule of law and have impaired and will continue to impair the USDA’s and FSIS’s ability to fulfill their public health missions.
- Defendants’ continuing failures and refusals to comply with this court’s Injunction Order, the Consent Decree, and the Acts have caused FSIS investigators to return multiple times to Miller’s Organic Farm in unsuccessful efforts to bring defendants into compliance, and have caused FSIS and USDA to incur related unnecessary costs.
- “Sanctions for civil contempt are penalties designed to compel future compliance with a court order, are considered to be coercive and avoidable through obedience, and thus may be imposed in an ordinary civil proceeding upon notice and an opportunity to be heard[.]’”
- Civil contempt sanctions: (a) “may include fines, incarceration or a reimbursement of costs incurred while seeking to obtain compliance;” and (b) may also be used “to compensate for losses sustained by the disobedience,” which can include putting the moving party, such as USDA FSIS here, in the “position it would have been in had” Miller’s “done what the court ordered him to do.”
- On June 9, 2021, the court ordered defendants to show cause why they should not be held in contempt, and the court held a hearing on June 16, 2021, allowing defendants to respond. After the court found defendants in contempt following that hearing — a finding and conclusion that the court reiterates here — the court held another hearing on June 23, 2021, allowing defendants to be heard on the scope of an appropriate contempt sanction. The court also gave defendants an opportunity to respond to the United States’ proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and sanction order, and the court further held oral argument on an appropriate sanction.
- Upon consideration of the parties’ evidence and arguments, the following sanctions are necessary to deter defendants’ future violations and to attempt to bring them into compliance with the court’s orders.
- In addition to defendants’ previous post-Injunction Order slaughtering activity in early 2020, defendants, at the very least, slaughtered for human consumption and commercial sales, and without required federal inspection: (a) amenable beef livestock on May 18, 2021; (b) amenable hogs on May 21, 2021; and (c) amenable chickens on May 25, 2021, and later dates.
- Although the Injunction Order’s penalty provisions and procedures do not bind the court when determining an appropriate civil contempt sanction, the court looks to those provisions for guidance.
- The approximate weight of the missing amenable beef carcass associated with one of the beef heads that FSIS detained on May 25, 2021, is 600 pounds. Under Injunction Order Paragraph 16, even if the court were to view the illegal slaughter of the animal that resulted in that carcass as a “first occasion of such violation,” the penalty amount would be 600 pounds times $500, or $300,000. The amount would be doubled if the Court were to view this, as it could, as a second such occasion.
- The approximate weight of the other amenable beef livestock, poultry, and hog articles that FSIS detained on May 25, 2021, is 3,100 pounds. Under Injunction Order Paragraph 16, even if the court were to view the slaughter of the beef livestock, chickens, and hogs resulting in these articles as the first occasions of such violations, the penalty amount would be doubled
- Regarding defendants’ recordkeeping violations, even if the court were narrow to look only at defendants’ failures to maintain required records for removal of SRMs connected to the two amenable beef livestock slaughtered at Miller’s without federal inspection on May 18, 2021, and even if the court were to consider only the missing beef carcass and not the detained beef heads, the penalty amount under Injunction Order Paragraph 17 for a first violation would be the weight of the missing carcass, 600 pounds, times $500, or a total of $300,000. Again, this amount would be doubled if the court were to view this, as it could, as a second such occasion.
Although under the Injunction Order and the Consent Decree the government could seek reimbursement of the United States Attorney’s Office’s recent enforcement costs and USDA’s Office of the General Counsel’s recent enforcement costs in connection with this civil contempt proceeding, the United States is seeking only FSIS’s May and June 2021 enforcement costs, which is $14,436.
In order to effect defendants’ future compliance, defendants are ordered to pay to the United States, within 30 days — and pursuant to written instructions that the United States will provide to defendants — the sum of $14,436 to reimburse FSIS’s enforcement costs, or face further monetary and other penalties, possibly including imprisonment of Amos Miller. This required payment is in addition to the $250,000 fine amount ordered above.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)