Ellison lawsuit against rodeo seeks ‘$25,000 per violation’ for defying COVID-19 restrictions

According to the attorney general’s press release, his office is "seeking civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has found time away from his multiple suits against the Trump administration and is instead turning his attention to a rodeo.

The rodeo took place in Itasca County, next to Bemidji, where Grand Rapids is the county seat. According to Ellison’s own press release, his office is bringing an “enforcement action against [a] rodeo that defied COVID-19 safety precautions.” The rodeo was put in place by North Star Ranch, LLC. 

According to Ellison’s press release, he is bringing the “enforcement action” against the rodeo company for “carelessly” allowing “large crowds to attend its annual three-day rodeo without taking required safety precautions against the spread of COVID-19.”

The Democratic attorney general appears to be specifically incensed by a comment that the owner of the rodeo made on Facebook, which Ellison’s office mentions in its press-release. After talks broke down with state officials about the safety precautions that the state would require at this outdoor rodeo, the owner of the rodeo posted on Facebook: 

“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.’” 

Here, the owner was making a clear reference to the mass protests and riots that have occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s death, which were both allowed and encouraged by state and local officials.

Once the rodeo began, North Star Ranch “opened its gates to what local reporters described as ‘thousands’ of attendees far in excess of the maximum allowed” by Gov. Walz’s executive order.

Ellison’s ‘enforcement action’

Ellison’s enforcement action is no small matter. According to the attorney general’s press release, his office 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.”

In other words, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, with relatively limitless taxpayer monies to spend, could put North Star Ranch out of business.

There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 spread due to the rodeo. That’s likely because the rodeo was held outdoors, where COVID-19 is unlikely to spread unless people are in extremely close contact.

One person who attended the rodeo later tested positive for COVID-19, but it is unclear if this person got the virus from attending the rodeo. 

Ellison’s press release put it this way: “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.”

Days later, a headline from the Star Tribune read that “Minnesota reports 622 new COVID-19 cases, no more from the rodeo yet.” Then a Fox 9 headline made it sound like an outbreak had occurred because of the rodeo: “At least 1 attendee infectious with COVID-19 at northern Minnesota rodeo, thousands possibly exposed.” Photos from the Fox 9 article showed a relatively light crowd. 

So far, there has been no outbreak because of the rodeo, and it doesn’t appear that major Minnesota media outlets have followed up to report that.

Walz’s executive orders have been called into question because they don’t seem to be fairly enforced, and because the current science suggests that the virus is hard to spread when outdoors.

Others highlight the hypocrisy of Walz and Ellison in crafting and enforcing these orders. First, they weren’t enforced against protesters or rioters, and Walz carved out an exception for abortion clinics during the initial shutdown.

Then, while small-businesses across the state were clamoring to re-open, Walz allowed a small candy store to re-open early, at nearly full capacity (without a mask mandate), simply because the candy store owner had a direct line of contract with the governor via a personal connection.


Willis Krumholz

Willis L. Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a JD and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, and works in the financial services industry. The views expressed are those of the author only. You can follow Willis on Twitter @WillKrumholz.