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Former Iron Waffle owner appeals ruling in state’s favor

Attorney Richard Dahl, who represents the business’ previous operator Stacy Stranne, filed the appeal earlier this month to challenge the Ramsey County District Court judge’s ruling finding that the

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Customers eat on the deck of the Iron Waffle Coffee Co. on Friday, June 11, 2021, in Lake Shore.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch file photo
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ST. PAUL — The former owner of Iron Waffle Coffee Co. in Lake Shore is appealing a summary judgment in favor of the state health department, which sued the business after repeated violations of pandemic-era executive orders.

Attorney Richard Dahl, who represents the business’ previous operator Stacy Stranne, filed the appeal earlier this month to challenge the Ramsey County District Court judge’s ruling finding that the facts of the case prompting the suit were undisputed.

The case hinged on the fact Stranne repeatedly opened the coffee shop and restaurant for business after the revocation of her food and beverage license by the Minnesota Department of Health. The revocation came after Stranne failed to correct violations observed by a health department employee, including multiple employees not wearing masks and allowing indoor dining when such activity was restricted by executive order.

In a statement to the appeals court of the defendant’s case, Stranne raises whether the health department has the authority to enforce an executive order to revoke the license and if the agency could do so after the executive orders expired. The appeal also raises constitutional due process claims and questions whether the court exceeded its jurisdiction by ordering $98,000 in contempt of court damages without sufficient foundation.

The court document states the punitive fine “could ONLY be interpreted as an excessive unconstitutional penalty against a political opponent in violation of the first amendment and the due process clauses of the state and federal constitutions.”

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Judges presiding over the case granted previous motions from the state for both a temporary injunction and a June 2021 contempt of court finding for Stranne continuing to open and sell food and beverages, despite not having a license. Fines totaling $120,000 were leveled at the business — $2,000 for each day the health department documented the Iron Waffle was open after the license revocation.

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As part of the summary judgment last month, Ramsey County Judge Laura E. Nelson granted the state’s motion for a permanent injunction against Stranne, preventing her from operating the Iron Waffle as a food and beverage establishment without first obtaining a license.

Stranne is no longer operating the business. On April 12, Iron Waffle announced in a Facebook post it would reopen April 15 under new management. A health department spokesperson confirmed the issuance of a new food and beverage license to S and S Waffle and Coffee LLC, a Pillager-based company that filed as a Minnesota business Feb. 1.

Nelson also ordered Stranne to pay a $9,500 administrative penalty to the health department and allowed the state to file a motion seeking reimbursement for litigation expenses. Earlier this month, Assistant Attorney General Kaitrin C. Vohs filed a notice claiming a total of $1,405 for statutory costs, a motion fee and process service fees. The process service fees, the document notes, cover service attempts made by Metro Legal and the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office.

In several filings and hearings thus far in the case, Dahl forwarded similar arguments about the health department’s lack of authority to revoke Iron Waffle’s license. These arguments were rejected by both the district and appeals courts as not relevant to the matter at hand — whether the business operated without a license. The Minnesota Supreme Court also denied a petition for review based on similar arguments in May.

Stranne’s appeal was filed the same day the Minnesota Court of Appeals released a precedential opinion affirming the health department’s authority to punish bars that violated emergency pandemic executive orders. Dahl represented the businesses appealing in those cases as well, including Mission Tavern north of Merrifield.

Mission Tavern’s food and beverage license was suspended in 2020 after it opened for indoor dining in November and December of that year, defying Walz’s executive order limiting restaurant service to pickup only. An administrative law judge in January upheld the health department’s decision and ordered the Mission Township business to pay a $5,000 fine and serve a 20-day license suspension.

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