Date Filed

October 28, 2019

 

Court

The District Court of Shawnee County (Topeka)

 

Case Status

Won

Free speech victory in Kansas

The advertisement of raw milk off the property is now legal in Kansas, thanks to a successful lawsuit filed by Kansas Justice Institute and their clients, Mark and Coraleen Bunner. Before the lawsuit, Mark and Coraleen couldn’t even talk about their legal product when they stepped off their property, now they can.

Bunner v Beam

This case is about the right to truthfully voice information free from government intervention. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as Section 11 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights, does not tolerate government bans on truthful speech concerning lawful products. This is why The Kansas Justice Institute did not hesitate to represent the Bunner family in their pursuit of striking down the unconstitutional ban on advertising their product.

Sam MacRoberts, General Counsel and Litigation Director for Kansas Justice Institute remarks, “The government’s speech-ban was offensive. This quick and decisive victory is a win for the speech rights of all Kansans. The Bunners have the absolute right to advertise raw milk.  I believe that if we do not stand up for our rights, we lose them. That’s why we filed this case on behalf of not just the Bunners, but all Kansans.  The government cannot be permitted to censor speech.”

Case Background

Mark and Coraleen Bunner are dairy farmers near Pfeifer, Kansas.  The Bunners have a small goat herd and they offer raw milk for sale.  The Bunners have the constitutional right to promote raw milk away from their farm and consumers have the right to hear about it.  The First Amendment demands no less.

Even though raw milk is a perfectly legal product, farmers like Coraleen and Mark Bunner are banned from advertising their raw milk away from their farm. That means the Bunner family and other farmers in Kansas are prohibited from posting flyers at local stores, advertising sales online or via email, or posting a bulletin at church.

Kansas’ censorship of free speech prohibits farmers in the state from talking about their product when they step off their property. It also keeps consumers who would like to find individuals in Kansas that sell this legal product. Many consumers desire to seek out raw milk for various reasons. Some consumers prefer the rich taste, some like the nutritional benefits, and some consumers who have a sensitivity to cow milk do not have the same sensitivity to raw goat milk. These consumers have a near-impossible time finding the product because farmers are not free to promote it off their own land.

Kansas’ ban results in farmers, like Mark and Coraleen Bunner, who are afraid to talk about one of their biggest passions when they visit with friends in their hometown.

Meet Mark and Coraleen Bunner

Mark and Coraleen Bunner run Shepherd’s Gate Dairy, LLC near Pfeifer, Kansas.  They started the dairy about 25 years ago with just one goat.  As they grew, they designed Shepherd’s Gate as a “Grade A” dairy, the highest-graded facility in the state. Their milking parlor is air-conditioned for the summers and has heated floors for the winters.  The parlor is equipped with a separate commercial-grade kitchen.

Even though they built their dairy to “Grade A” specifications, the Bunners preferred raw milk to pasteurized milk. So did their neighbors and customers. For some, raw milk tastes better. For others, they prefer the potential health benefits.  Either way, the Bunners’ preferences, and the marketplace steered them toward raw milk instead of the pasteurized version produced in Grade A facilities.  They’ve been selling raw milk and raw cheese ever since.

Goat farming is a passion for the Bunners. Mr. Bunner wrote articles for the Dairy Goat Journal, a bi-monthly magazine featuring articles, information, and ideas for anyone connected with dairy goats.  Mrs. Bunner loves her goats so much she has a “GoatMom” license plate. Each goat has a name, and Coraleen is eager to tell you all about their personality and how she cares for them. The Bunners follow the American Dairy Goat Association breeding standards and many of their goats are award-winning.

Raising goats is time-consuming and expensive.  A new goat costs between $300-$500 but sometimes goes as high as $1,500.  The Bunners feed their goats alfalfa and grain concentrate, the price of which has both increased.

The Bunners carefully follow a strict milking protocol ensuring the milking area on the goat is wiped down and clean, the milk is stripped, and the goats are routinely checked for any physical issues that would impact the safety of the milk. After this protocol, the milking begins at 5:30 AM every day and 5:30 PM every evening.

Their goats currently produce multiple gallons per day but because they can’t advertise, the Bunners are forced to throw away about half the milk. They simply cannot sell or get rid of the milk fast enough. The Bunners have decreased their milking goats from over twenty-five to six.

Shepherd’s Gate is located on a dead-end road in rural Kansas.  Their dairy is bounded by the Smoky Hill River to the north and west.  Because they are so isolated, the advertising ban hurts the Bunners more than most.

Case Team

Attorney

Samuel G. MacRoberts

Timeline & Case Documents

 

Petition for Declaratory Judgment

Verified Petition for Declaratory Judgment

Judgment and Injunction

Signed Judgment