ALBUQUERQUE, NM. – Stampede Meat Inc., Bridgeview, Ill., is fighting a public health order requiring the company to close its Sunland Park, NM, processing plant for two weeks. In a filing with the US District Court of New Mexico, the company argued it should not be forced to close because of an executive order by President Donald Trump requiring meat processing plants to remain open.
“Defendants’ action is preempted by an Executive Order signed by the President on April 28, 2020, prohibiting state authorities from directing meat and poultry processing facilities — like Stampede Meat — to close when that facility is in compliance with applicable federal guidelines, as is Stampede Meat,” the court document stated. “The Stampede Meat Closure Order also violates the US Constitution and New Mexico Constitution because it has been issued in an arbitrary and capricious manner, absent due process.”
The company asked the court to enter a temporary restraining order barring the state from: enforcing the public health order; enforcing the Notice of Immediate Closure; and issuing any civil or criminal fine, penalty stemming from the public health order and Notice of Immediate Closure.
Under New Mexico Department of Health (NMDH) policy, a positive COVID-19 test at any establishment, high-risk facility or population triggers a rapid response from the department. The NMDH will order closed those businesses where at least four rapid responses are conducted. Six rapid responses were reported at the Stampede Meat facility in Sunland Park in response to COVID-19 infections.
But Stampede Meat said in its complaint that the company has been “…at the forefront of the COVID-19 response,” and the positive tests represent only a fraction of the workforce at the facility.
“In early March 2020, before New Mexico, Illinois or even the federal government issued any significant directives regarding operations during the pandemic, Stampede Meat formed a COVID-19 response team — consisting of, among others, its human resources, safety, supply chain and operations departments — and released its first COVID-19 response plan,” the court documents stated.
The company said a COVID-19 response team holds weekly meetings, and updates and improvements to the company's response plan are made as a result of those meetings. The response plan currently includes more than 80 safety measures, including, for example:
- conducting daily screening and temperature checks;
- requiring employees to wear three-tiered facial protection (including face masks, neck warmers pulled over their nose and mouth, and plexiglass face shields);
- sanitizing high touch-point areas every 30 minutes; and
- modifying procedures to increase social distancing throughout its facilities among other measures.
“New Mexico OSHA and the Department of Health approved Stampede Meat’s response plan in early May 2020 and has never revoked that approval or raised any concerns with Stampede Meat or its counsel about the Company’s COVID-19 response plan,” the complaint said. “To the contrary, even after that approval was received, Stampede Meat continued to add more safety protocols above and beyond those required.”
The company acknowledged that more than four employees at the facility tested positive for COVID-19. But steps were taken to prevent spread of the disease in the facility.
“… each of those individuals are currently quarantining and not present in Stampede Meat’s workplace,” the company said. “Moreover, Stampede Meat has conducted contact tracing and required all of those who came in exposed close contact with the infected individuals to also quarantine. To Stampede Meat’s knowledge, none of its current, active workforce has been infected with COVID-19.”
As of Nov. 9, NMDH reported 12 additional COVID-19 deaths and 1,418 new COVID-19 cases for a total of 56,289.