Attorney General Ellison brings enforcement action against rodeo that defied COVID-19 safety precautions

Sues to enforce Executive Order 20-74 against company that intentionally drew large crowds to its Itasca County rodeo without taking precautions against the spread of COVID-19

Company owner was counseled to follow State restrictions but refused to do so; at least one rodeo attendee was infectious, has now tested positive

July 31, 2020 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison today announced that his office has brought an enforcement action against an Itasca County company, North Star Ranch, LLC, that carelessly allowed large crowds to attend its annual three-day rodeo without taking required safety precautions against the spread of COVID-19. The North Star Ranch’s violations are even more disturbing as the Minnesota Department of Health recently learned that at least one attendee has tested positive for COVID-19 and was infectious at the time they attended the rodeo. 

A representative from the Attorney General’s Office and the Minnesota Department of Health initially spoke with the owner of North Star Ranch in Effie, Minnesota on July 22 to confirm that the company had implemented and would follow required safety precautions during its annual rodeo event to ensure that its attendees were protected from the community spread of COVID-19.  During that call, the owner became agitated and hung up the phone.  The owner subsequently posted to the rodeo’s Facebook page:  “The North Star Stampede will take place with no spectators.  If people would like to come and protest against this ridiculous Government Over Reach, feel free to do so, I will not stand in the way of peoples ‘Right to Assemble.’”  

The next day, North Star Ranch opened its gates to what local reporters described as “thousands” of attendees far in excess of the maximum allowed under Executive Order 20-74 and State requirements for halting the spread of COVID-19.  Although the company owner claimed the North Star Stampede rodeo would “take place with no spectators,” the many attendees that entered the rodeo event venue on July 24, 25, and 26 congregated in the bleachers surrounding the dirt arena and watched each day’s rodeo competitions. Once it accepted people inside, the rodeo accepted “donations” and sold programs to attendees listing the rodeo’s events. Attendees observed rodeo events, cheered for rodeo participants, and were entertained by a rodeo clown hired by North Star Ranch throughout each day.  Indeed, when someone asked “How did everything go today?” after the first day of the rodeo on the “North Star Stampede, Effie MN” public Facebook page, an attendee responded, “Great! Everyone just gave them a ‘donation’ and sat and watched the rodeo like always.” 

Photos from the complaint, taken at each of the three days of the event, show non-compliance with the Executive Order. 

"Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is everyone's responsibility. It's in all Minnesotans' interest for businesses and events to comply with the law and the Governor’s executive orders so that we can protect ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, and our livelihoods,” Attorney General Ellison said. “My office has been working successfully for months with businesses and events across Minnesota to help them understand the law and the Governor's executive orders so that they can operate responsibly and keep Minnesotans safe during this pandemic. In most cases, we’ve reached agreement that leads to voluntary compliance. Because we take the health of Minnesota's people and economy very seriously, we take our responsibility to educate and seek compliance very seriously.  

“My office is also charged with enforcing the law and the Governor's executive orders when need be if we cannot gain compliance. We also take that duty seriously,” Attorney General Ellison continued. “Business owners and event operators need to know that they are not above the law. If they risk the health and safety of our communities, my office will take strong action, as we are doing today.” 

This is the first action the Attorney General’s Office has brought to enforce Executive Order 20-74 against an entertainment venue that has operated in open defiance of the law.  In the enforcement action brought today, the Attorney General is seeking civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation, restitution, disgorgement, and/or damages to the State, as  well as the Office’s costs and fees, and other equitable relief. The Attorney General’s Office will continue to take enforcement actions as necessary to protect the health and safety of the public. 

The Attorney General’s Office is also sharing reports of non-compliance of Executive Order 20-74 that it receives with other appropriate government agencies involved in the licensing of entities like food vendors, including the Minnesota Department of Health (“MDH”).  MDH will investigate such reports and any violations it discovers could lead to a penalty as well as license suspension or revocation. 

Governor Tim Walz’s Executive Order 20-74 requires certain businesses to develop and implement COVID-19 plans and follow requirements intended to protect the health and safety of Minnesotans. Under Executive Order 20-74, outdoor entertainment venues are generally restricted to 25% of their normal capacity, or 250 people, whichever is lower.  They are also required to prepare a COVID-19 preparedness plan that complies with the Governor’s Executive Order, and to meet requirements  intended to mitigate the community spread of COVID-19.   

The Governor’s executive orders have the force of law during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency. 

Attorney General Ellison encourages any business owner or event operator who has questions about how they can operate safely to contact the Attorney General’s Office. He also encourages Minnesotans who are concerned about community health and wish to stop the spread of COVID-19 to report suspected violations of Executive Order 20-74  by filling out the dedicated COVID-19 complaint form available on the Attorney General’s website.