Appellate court vacates Kern judge’s decision in Tastries Bakery case

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — An appellate court has vacated a Kern County judge’s 2018 decision in favor of a local bakery which refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple.

The ruling Wednesday by the 5th District Court of Appeal says Judge David Lampe decided the case involving Tastries Bakery prematurely in 2018 when he granted a motion filed by the bakery to enforce judgment as an investigation by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing was ongoing. Lampe’s decision also limited the department’s investigation.

The DFEH argued Lampe was wrong in deciding the case based on a preliminary injunction motion. The appellate court agreed.

“In considering the effect of its judgment, the trial court improperly construed its decision on the preliminary injunction request to be a final adjudication of the merits of the underlying administrative complaint,” Justice Kathleen Meehan wrote in the appellate court opinion.

Meehan wrote the appellate court’s decision is based solely on procedural grounds, and does not address the constitutional question of whether Tastries’ owner Cathy Miller can refuse to bake cakes for same-sex couples based on First Amendment expression.

In denying DFEH’s request for a preliminary injunction, Lampe found that Miller’s refusal to design and create the cake was protected by the First Amendment’s free speech clause. The judge later entered judgment in favor of Tastries and in part granted a motion by the bakery limiting the scope of the department’s investigation.

The appellate court said no judgment should have been entered until the DFEH had completed its investigation and had an opportunity to present every legal argument it wished.

“When the trial court decided the free-speech issue at the preliminary injunction stage, the court necessarily relied on the factual context as it was known to and presented by the parties at that point, which was before the DFEH finished its investigation …” Meehan wrote.

The appellate court later halted another ruling by Lampe, which allowed the DFEH to file a second lawsuit against Tastries under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which says in part that all people in the state — regardless of sexual orientation — are entitled to “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.”

That lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in December 2021.

The case has its origins in 2017, when same-sex couple Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez-Del Rio visited Tastries to sample wedding cakes. The couple met with a bakery employee, selected a cake and booked a tasting for the next week.

A week later, they arrived at Tastries with family and were told by Miller that she would refer them to another bakery because she did not condone same-sex marriage. The couple left and filed a complaint with DFEH alleging Tastries violated the Unruh Act by refusing to provide services to them based solely on their sexual orientation.

The department found Tastries has refused to provide full service to same-sex couples since at least 2015, according to appellate court documents.

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