Minnesota Small Farms

Richard Bergmann et al. v. City of Lake Elmo
Freeing Small Farms through Free Trade

Institute for Justice Client Keith Bergmann

Institute for Justice Client Dick Bergmann

Video: Freeing Small Farms

Farmers should not be threatened with 90 days in jail and $1,000 in fines for selling pumpkins or Christmas trees grown outside city limits.

Yet that was the law in Lake Elmo, Minn.  On December 1, 2009, the Lake Elmo City Council declared that it would begin enforcing a law that forbids farmers from selling products from their own land unless they were grown inside city limits.  The city’s politicians argued that they were protecting Lake Elmo’s rural character.  In fact, they were destroying that character by making it impossible for their farmers to earn an honest living and making it more likely that family farms will fail.

Lake Elmo’s law harmed farmers like Richard and Eileen Bergmann and their three grown children who run their farm while restricting choices for their costumers.  The Bergmanns have farmed in Lake Elmo for nearly 40 years and regularly need to add to their inventories with produce grown outside the city, including from a pumpkin farm they operate just a few miles away in Wisconsin.  But Lake Elmo banned the Bergmanns and other farms in the city from bringing in and selling farm goods from out of the city and out of the state.  Engaging in free trade with farmers from across the country allows the Bergmanns and small farmers like them to survive.  Lake Elmo’s ban negatively impacted farmers well beyond Lake Elmo’s borders.

Unfortunately, Lake Elmo was not alone:  cities and states across the nation are stripping away the basic right to trade freely between states and even within a state. Such misguided laws are more than bad business; they are unconstitutional.

That is why on May 18, 2010, the Institute for Justice—a national public interest law firm with a history of successfully defending economic liberty and the rights of entrepreneurs—filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on behalf of the Bergmanns and their farming partners, challenging Lake Elmo’s trade ban as a violation of fundamental constitutional rights.  In response to the lawsuit, including a preliminary victory before U.S. Magistrate Judge Noel, the city changed its laws to allow sales of outside products from farms if the farm obtained a permit.  The Bergmanns then obtained that permit, allowing them to freely trade across state lines and pursue the occupation of their calling.


Essential Background


Backgrounder: Freeing Small Farms through Free Trade

Client Video

Client Photos

Press Conference (May 18, 2010)
Latest Release: Victory for Farming Freedom; Farmers Vindicate Their Right to Freely Trade Across State Lines (October 6, 2010) 

Launch Release: Farmers File Federal Lawsuit Against City’s Free Trade Ban (May 18, 2010)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Download: District Judge Ericksen’s minute order (October 1, 2010) (PDF)

Download: Judge Noel’s Report and Recommendation that Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Preliminary Injunction be granted (August 19, 2010) (PDF)

Download: IJ's Complaint (May 18, 2010) (PDF)
Download: Preliminary Injunction Motion and Brief (May 26, 2010) (PDF)

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit: 


May 18, 2010

Court Filed:


U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota



 Current Court: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota


On August 19, 2010 Magistrate Judge Franklin L. Noel issued a report and recommendation that Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Preliminary Injunction be granted and that the City had likely violated the United States Constitution.  On October 1, 2010 District Judge Joan N. Ericksen was informed by the City that it planned to amend the offending law on October 5—four days later—to remove the language Judge Noel had found constitutionally suspect.  Because of the impending change, and because the City promised Judge Ericksen that it would not enforce the old law in the meantime without notice to the Plaintiffs, she did not adopted Judge Noel’s report and recommendation.  Judge Ericksen’s decision did not state or imply that Judge Noel’s finding that the City had likely violated the Constitution was invalid.  The City then dully amended the law on October 5, 2010.
  Next Key Date:


Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

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Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: An IJ Victory Down on the Farm; Liberty & Law (December, 2010)

Article: Fight for Freedom Focuses on Farms; Liberty & Law (August, 2010)

Video: ABC-TV: Minn. Farmers Fight for Free Trade; KSTP-ABC (May 19, 2010)

Video: Freeing Small Farms - Case Launch Press Conference; (May 19, 2010)

Video: Freeing Small Farms: Institute for Justice & Minnesota Farmers Fight Protectionism; (May 18, 2010)

Op-Ed: Keith Bergmann: Pumpkins, Christmas trees and free enterprise in Lake Elmo The Pioneer Press (May 17, 2010)

Article: How local is local? Lake Elmo farm law the target of federal suit The Pioneer Press (May 17, 2010)
Article: Farm fight sprouting over Wisconsin products The Journal Sentinel (May 17, 2010)
Op-Ed: Anthony Sanders: Lake Elmo puts farmers in a box  The Star Tribune (May 17, 2010)

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