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Federal courts dismiss lawsuit challenging agricultural testing requirements


A legal challenge to COVID-19 testing requirements on Michigan farms has been dismissed in the federal court system. 

Two Michigan farms — True Blue Berry Management in Grand Junction, and Smeltzer Orchards in Frankfort — and several workers filed the lawsuit against the state in August, claiming the testing requirements discriminated against Latinos, who make up the majority of farm workers in the U.S.


Immigrant advocates have called that claim “preposterous” and “absurd." They’ve pointed out that the testing order applies to workers regardless of race or ethnicity. 


Diana Marin, supervising attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, says she was “pleasantly surprised to hear that the plaintiffs (the farms) agreed to dismissal “with prejudice.” 


That means they’re barred from filing another lawsuit on the same grounds.


“If they really felt so adamant and were so sure of their claim, with prejudice surely is the opposite of that,” Marin said. “So it’s surprising in that way.” 


MIRC was not a party in the case, but filed an amicus brief in support of the testing order. 


Two federal courts were processing separate components of the case: A district court in Kalamazoo held the underlying case while an appeal pended in a circuit court in Cincinnati. 


On Wednesday, both courts accepted the plaintiffs’ request that they dismiss the case. The defendants had agreed to that request, making it a "joint stipulation of dismissal."


An attorney for the plaintiffs’ declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Michigan Attorney General’s office, which represented the state, said they could not “speculate on why plaintiffs proposed and agreed to dismissal.”


But, as it moved through the courts, various judges upheld the testing order on constitutional grounds. In Cincinnati, the appeals court judges noted that the plaintiffs “did not establish that the [testing order] had a discriminatory purpose."


Marin, with MIRC, worries that despite being closed, the case will have a lasting effect. She says she’s heard from clients about two farms telling their workers the order did in fact only apply to Latinos, which is false. 


“If that’s how they’re implementing this order — these employers — then that is discriminatory,” she said. “That is not actually complying with the order.”


The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is reporting 9 ongoing COVID outbreaks at farms, food processing facilities, and migrant labor camps, all of which must comply with the order. 

Will Callan, a reporter for Michigan Radio, hails from the Bay Area, where he lived in Oakland and San Francisco and reported for local newspapers and magazines. He enjoys a long swim in chilly water (preferably followed by a sauna) and getting to know new cities. That's one reason he's excited to be in Ann Arbor, which he can already tell has just the right combo of urban grit and natural beauty to make him feel at home.
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