Meat processor sues to stop state-mandated closure - Albuquerque Journal

Meat processor sues to stop state-mandated closure

Stampede Meat’s processing plant in Sunland Park is experiencing a coronavirus outbreak. (Las Cruces Sun-News)

LAS CRUCES – Stampede Meat, a meat processing company with a plant in southern Doña Ana County that has suffered a COVID-19 outbreak, is arguing in a federal lawsuit that it can’t be closed because it’s an essential business.

The state ordered the meatpacking plant shut on Nov. 3, but the business has remained open.

Stampede filed the lawsuit against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, and the New Mexico Department of Health and the Environment Department, among others, claiming the closure order is unconstitutional.

Since the pandemic hit in March, Stampede Meat has had over 100 COVID-19 cases at its facility in Sunland Park, according to the NMED.

On Oct. 22, New Mexico amended its public health order, stating businesses that report four or more rapid responses within two weeks may have to close for two weeks in an effort to control COVID-19 hot spots.

Stampede, which has reported dozens of rapid responses since Oct. 22, was served an order by the Department of Health on Nov. 3 that required the business to close immediately for two weeks. Stampede is claiming the closure order and the amended public health order are unconstitutional.

The suit cites the Defense Production Act and the executive order President Donald Trump signed on April 28. According to the executive order, meatpacking plants are essential to providing food for American consumers. The NMDOH has also described meatpacking plants as essential businesses in its public health order.

Stampede asked for a declaratory judgment from the court, meaning an opinion issued before both parties respond to the complaint. The suit argues that the business will suffer irreparable harm if it has to destroy millions of pounds of meat in the time it would take for the state and other defendants to respond.

U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez issued an order Nov. 10 declining a declaratory judgment, arguing there was no evidence Stampede would suffer “that immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage.”

Vazquez ordered the defense to respond to Stampede’s lawsuit by Nov. 16, with a further response from the plaintiff by Nov. 18. A hearing will be set if the court finds that it’s necessary.

Stampede Meat and its attorneys could not be reached for comment.

Based in Illinois, Stampede Meat has four locations near Chicago and one location in Sunland Park. According to court documents, the business processes a million pounds of meat each week and distributes products to restaurants, grocery stores and food distributors throughout the country.

Leah Romero is a fellow with the New Mexico Local News Fund and can be reached at or @rromero_leah on Twitter.


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