August 22, 2017

Archives for August 23, 2016

Ninth Circuit Enjoins Department of Justice from Prosecuting Individuals in Medical Marijuana States

On Tuesday, August 16, 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. McIntosh, a group of ten consolidated interlocutory appeals addressing whether an appropriations ban applies to prosecutions of individuals accused of marijuana crimes in states with medical marijuana laws. All of the appellants were indicted for various infractions of the Controlled Substances Act based on their participation in their respective states’ medical marijuana schemes. The appellants moved to dismiss their indictments or enjoin their prosecutions based on a rider in a federal appropriations bill, which stated:

None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, Pub. L. No. 114-113, § 542, 129 Stat. 2242, 2332–33 (2015). The rider was extended and is currently effective through September 30, 2016.

The appellants in the various cases moved to dismiss or enjoin on the basis of the rider, arguing that the Department of Justice was prohibited from using funds to pursue prosecutions. The Department argued that it was merely prohibited from prosecuting states with medical marijuana schemes, but was still free to use the appropriated funds to prosecute individuals who violated the Controlled Substances Act regardless of their compliance with state medical marijuana laws.

The Ninth Circuit first noted that although the Medical Marijuana States had enacted laws permitting the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act for all purposes. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the superior authority, the federal government through the Controlled Substances Act, could prevent a subordinate authority, the Medical Marijuana States, from implementing rules permitting the conduct by punishing individuals who are engaged in the conduct officially permitted by the subordinate authority. In this instance, the Department of Justice can prevent the Medical Marijuana States from implementing their rules permitting the use of marijuana in medicinal settings by prosecuting individuals for use, possession, distribution, or cultivation of marijuana. The Department of Justice need not take any official action against the states in order to prevent implementation of the states’ rules. The Ninth Circuit therefore concluded that § 542 prohibited the Department of Justice from spending any funds to prosecute individuals in Medical Marijuana States who were engaging in conduct fully permitted by their states’ laws.

Some appellants requested that the Circuit enjoin the Department of Justice from prosecuting any individuals for marijuana violations in Medical Marijuana States, arguing that the implementation of laws necessarily includes all aspects of giving effect to the laws, including prosecutions for violations of the laws. The Ninth Circuit refused to expand the meaning of § 542 to include the prosecution of any individuals in Medical Marijuana States regardless of compliance with their states’ laws. The Circuit found that the Department of Justice was free to prosecute individuals who failed to comply with their state medical marijuana regulations. Because the district courts had not made findings about whether the individuals being prosecuted were in compliance with their respective states’ regulatory schemes, the Ninth Circuit remanded for further proceedings on this issue.

The Ninth Circuit noted the temporal nature of the proceedings, in that the Department had been authorized to prosecute the various individuals initially but lost its funding through the appropriations rider. The Circuit warned that at any moment, Congress could re-authorize the prosecutions of individuals in Medical Marijuana States, or Congress could permanently deprive the Department of funding to prosecute individuals complying with their states’ medical marijuana schemes. In the words of the Circuit, “Congress could restore funding tomorrow, a year from now, or four years from now, and the government could then prosecute individuals who committed offenses while the government lacked funding. Moreover, a new president will be elected soon, and a new administration could shift enforcement priorities to place greater emphasis on prosecuting marijuana offenses.”

The Ninth Circuit cautioned that marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and anyone in any state who possesses, manufactures, or distributes marijuana is committing a federal crime for which they could be prosecuted for up to five years after the date of the offense. The Circuit reminded the district courts of the need to balance the remedy for violations of § 542 with the appellants’ Speedy Trial Act rights. The Circuit also remarked that, under the Supremacy Clause, a state cannot “legalize” any conduct that is illegal under federal law.

The orders were vacated and the cases were remanded for further proceedings to determine whether the appellants were in compliance with their states’ medical marijuana laws.

Tenth Circuit: No Error where District Court Granted Summary Judgment Prior to Rule 26(f) Meeting

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Trans-Western Petroleum, Inc. v. United States Gypsum Co. on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.

United States Gypsum (USG) owns the oil and gas underlying 1,700 acres of land in Utah. USG entered into an oil and gas lease in 1995 that was subsequently assigned to Wolverine Oil & Gas Corp. and extended through August 17, 2004. In 2004, Douglas Isern, the owner and sole officer of Trans-Western, called USG and expressed interest in leasing the oil and gas rights when the Wolverine lease expired. Trans-Western sent USG a proposed five-year lease beginning August 17, 2014, and a check for $32,680. USG executed the lease on September 15, 2004 but did not cash the check.

On October 1, 2004, Wolverine protested the recording of the lease, claiming its lease remained valid. USG then rescinded the Trans-Western lease both orally and in writing. Trans-Western brought suit against Wolverine in 2006, seeking a declaratory judgment that Wolverine’s lease had expired on August 17, 2004. The district court determined that the lease had expired and granted the parties’ joint motion for a Rule 54(b) certification and stay. The Tenth Circuit affirmed on appeal. Thereafter, USG and Trans-Western executed a Ratification and Lease Extension for a primary five-year term beginning December 11, 2009.

In 2010, Trans-Western filed a second amended complaint, seeking a declaratory judgment that its lease with USG was valid and damages for breach of contract and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Trans-Western moved for partial summary judgment, which USG opposed. The district court granted partial summary judgment but denied attorney fees due to disputed material facts on damages. At a bench trial on damages, Trans-Western contended it was entitled to expectation damages because USG deprived it of the opportunity to assign. The district court disagreed, finding Trans-Western was entitled to only nominal damages based on the contract’s value on the date of the breach. The parties appealed.

The Tenth Circuit certified a question to the Utah Supreme Court regarding how expectation damages should be measured for the breach of an oil and gas lease. The Utah Supreme Court responded that consequential damages are those that are reasonably foreseeable by the parties at the time the contract was made. The court also held that the trial court may exercise its discretion to allow for the use of post-breach evidence to help calculate expectation damages.

The Tenth Circuit first evaluated USG’s cross-appeal, in which it argued that the district court should have granted its Rule 56(d) motion and deferred ruling on its partial summary judgment motion so that USG could conduct discovery. The district court determined that USG had a correct understanding of certain facts and constructive notice of others, thereby allowing the case to be resolved as a matter of law. In the district court, USG argued that extra time would allow it to discover evidence that Trans-Western was aware that USG was under a mistaken impression. On appeal, USG argued that discovery would have shown there was no meeting of the minds due to a lack of consideration from Trans-Western. The Tenth Circuit found these arguments different, and ruled that USG waived its argument. The Tenth Circuit further noted, though, that even if it were to consider the argument, USG did not meet the requirements for Rule 56(d) deferral because its allegations were vague and non-specific.

USG also argued the district court violated a scheduling order by granting summary judgment prior to the Rule 26(f) meeting. The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion, noting that nothing suggested that USG sought to enforce the scheduling order and the order did not preclude motions practice. USG next argued the district court erred by granting Trans-Western’s motion for partial summary judgment because the lease failed for want of mutuality and consideration. The Tenth Circuit again disagreed. Trans-Western issued a bank draft in 2004, and USG had the ability to negotiate the draft from the moment of its delivery. Because the parties exchanged promises with adequate consideration, the district court did not err in granting partial summary judgment.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court but remanded for calculation of damages consistent with the Utah Supreme Court’s opinion.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 8/22/2016

On Monday, August 22, 2016, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

Collins v. Trans Union, LLC

United States v. James

Winkel v. Heimgartner

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, some published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.