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Judge Tells Landscaper to Stop Non-essential Operations After AG, Muskegon County Prosecutor Send Cease and Desist Letter
April 20, 2020
LANSING – Attorney General Dana Nessel and Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson sent a cease and desist letter to a Muskegon County landscaping company last week after it was found to be violating Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order. The business then challenged the directive in court, with Muskegon County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Hicks issuing an opinion Friday that confirmed the business was violating the order.
The letter was sent Tuesday to Land Scape Supplies LLC after witnesses reported to police that company employees were delivering mulch and providing other lawn care services, as well as putting flyers in residents’ mailboxes.
A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section pertaining to Executive Order 2020-42 explicitly says landscaping, lawncare, tree service, irrigation and related outdoor maintenance companies “cannot designate workers to perform these services unless the service is necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operations of a residence.” The order does not prohibit homeowners from tending to their own yards.
The executive order was issued to protect lives and slow the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and imposes restrictions on the operations of a wide range of businesses and other entities to only those “necessary to sustain or protect life.”
Certain functions like hauling waste and compost and operating related facilities are considered essential under the order, and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) has contacted businesses that provide those services throughout the state making them aware of that responsibility. Such entities, including Land Scape Supplies, received a letter confirming they are permitted to carry out those essential functions.
However, Land Scape Supplies was misinterpreting its letter from EGLE -- which designated it as permitted to operate a compost facility – as confirmation that it is allowed to continue conducting other non-essential operations. Employees of the business were also confronted by police while delivering advertisement flyers to residents’ mailboxes.
In his opinion, Judge Hicks concurred with prosecutors that the Norton Shores landscaping company must cease its operations.
The virus is more contagious than influenza, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), and while the CDC notes there is likely very low risk of spread through packaging materials, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the virus can persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days, depending on the type of surface and other conditions.
“When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan is not out of the woods yet,” Nessel said. “New positive cases of the virus continue to be reported each day, and more people continue to die. This virus is not something to be taken lightly, and I appreciate Prosecutor Hilson for his efforts to help protect the people of Muskegon County. We must stay the course to continue flattening the curve, and regardless of how much we may want our flower gardens to be ready for spring, we must remember that the lives of many Michiganders are at stake.”
The state has more than 31,400 confirmed COVID-19 cases and around 2,400 deaths, according to the latest data available.
“I appreciate the assistance from the Attorney General’s office in this complex legal matter,” Hilson said. “I share the Attorney General’s continued concern that we all follow the requirements of the Governor’s executive orders to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”
Willful violations of the Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order can result in a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail for each offense, as well as licensing penalties for businesses and other entities. Violations should be reported to law enforcement agencies overseeing the jurisdiction in which the alleged offense occurred.
The Attorney General’s office recently added a new section to its website, Know Your Employment Rights, to provide Michigan residents with more information on the legal rights of employees and employers under the executive order.
Additional information for employers can be found on the Guidance for Business page on the state’s website devoted to COVID-19.
A summary of the activities people can and cannot do under the Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order can be found online here.
The state’s COVID-19 website also has information on the Governor’s other executive orders, directives and FAQs which allows for review of each order and its own questions and answers.