Meat Company Claims New Mexico’s Notice to Close After Four COVID-19 Cases is Unconstitutional

Stampede Meat, Inc., a New Mexico meat processing company, filed a lawsuit on Friday against the New Mexico Health Department, the state’s Environment Department, and various individuals associated with the state, including its attorney general, arguing that the state cannot shut down its facility despite four positive tests for COVID-19. It argued that the cases consist of less than one percent of the business’ workforce and if the business closes “its workforce and the nation will suffer irreparable harm.” 

In addition to claiming that the closure order violates the United States and New Mexico constitutions, because it was reportedly arbitrary and absent due process, the complaint said that under the April 28 executive order state authorities are not allowed to close meat or poultry processing facilities. 

The state reportedly ordered Stampede Meat’s Sunland Park location to close following a public health order that requires businesses who have four or more employees test positive for COVID-19 in a 14 day period to close for two weeks. Stampede Meat argued that its business, and the positive tests its employees received, did not create a “significant health risk.” It claimed that the employees who received a positive test are quarantining and that the company has completed contact tracing and required others to quarantine as well. 

The complaint said as “one of the United States’ largest manufacturer(s) of portion-controlled proteins” it plays a “critical role” in feeding Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company claimed it has prioritized keeping employees safe during the pandemic and implemented a response plan before it was required by the government, which was approved by the state. “Stampede Meat has deftly balanced its role as a vital piece of critical national infrastructure with its commitment to the safety and wellbeing of its employees and local community,” the filing said. 

Stampede Meat said it has attempted to address the concerns of the defendants, and followed COVID-19-related guidance, but has “been met with silence” from the defendants about this decision to shut down the location. The defendants’ notice to Stampede Meat reportedly said that if the location is not shut down the plaintiff would face civil and criminal penalties. 

The plaintiff requested an emergency hearing and asked the court to enter a temporary restraining order, and later an injunction, stopping the defendants from enforcing the public health order and the notice of closure sent to Stampede Meat last Tuesday or issuing any penalties. It also asked the court to declare that New Mexico’s public health order which was filed on October 22 is “unconstitutional and enforceable.” 

The court responded to the plaintiff’s request on Tuesday and said it did not find grounds “to issue an order on an emergency basis without providing Defendants with an opportunity to respond.” They ordered the plaintiff to send the documents to the defendants and ordered the defendants to oppose before November 16. 

Stampede Meat is represented by Ray Peña McChristian, P.C.