Minerva Dairy v. Brancel

Wisconsin flunks constitutional law with artisanal butter grading

Cases > Equality Under the Law > Minerva Dairy v. Brancel
Case Status: Active: Adverse decion on October 3, 2019. Petition for certiorari filed on March 1, 2019

Minerva Dairy, and its President, Adam Mueller, are challenging a Wisconsin law that prevents butter makers from outside the state from selling their products in Wisconsin unless they go through an arduous and costly process of getting their butter “graded.” Grading has nothing to do with quality or safety; it is graded by taste, as determined by government bureaucrats. Only Wisconsin has this type of law; neither the federal government nor any other state requires grading. Because Minerva Dairy makes artisanal butter that has its own unique taste, it does not want to submit to Wisconsin grading. Representing Minerva, PLF filed a lawsuit challenging the law as an unconstitutional violation of the Commerce Clause, Due Process, and Equal Protection.

Minerva Dairy, a family-owned business based in Ohio and selling its product nationwide, has been producing artisanal, slow-churned butter in small batches since 1935. It currently sells via its website and through regional distributers that cover several states. For the vast majority of the country, this business model works. Not in Wisconsin.

At the behest of large, in-state butter producers wishing to limit their competition, Wisconsin enacted a law that requires all out-of-state butter makers to jump through a series of very expensive hoops to get the butter “graded” before they can make a sale. Wisconsin requires out-of-state butter producers to bring in a U.S. Department of Agriculture taste tester based in Chicago. Because Minerva’s butter is produced in 14-18 small batches over the course of each day, the dairy would have near-constant need for a USDA tester on site. This is cost-prohibitive.

None of this serves any legitimate purpose. Butter “grading” is a matter of marketing, not safety, because all it affirms is that the butter has a particular standardized taste as certified by the government. Minerva does not want its butter identified with that commodity taste. Instead, it makes artisanal butter with a unique taste created by its special recipe with high butter fat, different salt contents, and various flavor profiles. Discerning customers in every state other than Wisconsin can legally purchase this ungraded butter.

Represented by PLF, Minerva’s lawsuit in federal court argues that Wisconsin’s law violates several constitutional provisions intended to protect economic liberty and the right to earn a living. Wisconsin’s grading mandate serves to shield favored businesses, while harming competitors and the general public by restricting consumer choice. The law also violates the constitution by blocking the free exchange of goods in interstate commerce.

Read full story

What’s at stake?

  • Because the United States is one nation, the U.S. constitution does not allow individual states to erect barriers that insulate in-state businesses from competition.
  • Anti-competitive laws enacted at the behest of large corporations to crush competition from smaller businesses and artisans have no place in a free market economy.
  • Banning out-of-state businesses from competing with in-state businesses allows in-state businesses to keep prices artificially high, to the detriment of consumers.

Case Timeline

Opinion - Seventh Circuit

October 03, 2018 Download

PLF Reply Brief

July 11, 2018 Download

Opening Brief - Minerva Dairy

April 17, 2018 Download

Preliminary Injunction

June 07, 2017 Download

Complaint

April 20, 2017 Download

Petition for Writ of Certiorari

March 05, 2019 Download

Case Attorneys

Related Posts

Donate