Is the door-to-door sale of milk a right protected under the First Amendment? It might sound utterly preposterous, but that's the argument a longtime Colorado milk delivery company is making in a federal lawsuit against the City of Fort Collins.
Royal Crest Dairy says a city ordinance that outlaws solicitation at people's doorsteps is infringing upon the company's constitutional rights and souring their profit margins. But the ordinance makes exceptions for religious, charitable or political groups as well as -- get this -- newspaper and magazine peddlers.
The suit, filed late last month in U.S. District Court in Denver (read it by clicking here), claims the city's prohibition of all other neighborhood salesmen is a violation of the milk baron's commercial free speech. Sure, that might be milking the First Amendment for all it's worth, but for the old-fashioned delivery business that depends in large part on house calls, the ban nicks at the milk jugular.
The city sent a letter to Royal Crest in August 2008, informing the company that they were in violation of the ordinance, which could result in criminal misdemeanor charges.
Jan Rigg, spokesperson for the 83-year-old Colorado dairy deliverers, declined comment Thursday until a federal judge decides whether or not the Fort Collins prohibition is lawful. "We believe the case has merit," she says.
The Denver-based operation delivers milk and other dairy to homes across the Front Range, but Fort Collins is the only municipality that has threatened their milk money, Rigg said.
"As a home delivery service, Royal Crest relies on marketing and selling its products door-to-door by interacting directly with customers and potential customers as well as leaving product and pricing information on doors and entryways," according to the complaint, which also states that "under the ordinance, Royal Crest is precluded from personally contacting potential customers via door-to-door solicitations."
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As a result, the company alleges, "Royal Crest's business is severely limited in Fort Collins, causing Royal Crest to lose sales and market share, as well as brand recognition and goodwill."
Royal Crest, which touts "All Natural Milk... A Difference You Can Taste," says the exclusion of newspaper and magazine salesmen from the ban, specifically, renders the ordinance unconstitutional. They also say that because the ordinance allows other private companies to solicit door-to-door, it violates the Fourteenth Amendment's edict of equal protection under the law.
Among other things, the company is seeking the federal court to deem the ordinance unconstitutional, as well as asking that Fort Collins pay damages to the company.
The combination of free speech and dairy products is unusual, to say the least. Now it's up to a federal court to decide if the complaint is legitimate, or just so much crying over spilled milk.