Oklevueha Native American v. Holder

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: 04-09-2012
  • Case #: 10-17687
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Murguia for the Court, Circuit Judges Goodwin and Trott
  • Full Text Opinion

When asserting a claim for prospective relief, a plaintiff has a justiciable case and controversy for constitutional and statutory entitlement to use marijuana in religious practice if enforcement or prosecution has already occurred, regardless of whether criminal charges resulted from that enforcement action.

Oklevueha, the Hawaii chapter of the Native American Church, initiated this action against government officials for violations of constitutional and statutory guarantees of religious freedom when one pound of marijuana intended for religious use was seized and destroyed by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). No criminal charges were asserted against any of the members. The district court dismissed Oklevueha's claims as not ripe and lacking in standing. Additional claims for money damages or recovery of the marijuana were also dismissed. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's determination that the claims were not ripe, finding Oklevueha met all the elements to bring a “preenforcement claim,” which requires a genuine threat of prosecution. In this case, the members intended to continue to use marijuana and the previous seizure of the marijuana constituted enforcement that threatened to continue. In addition, Oklevueha's claims were fit for review because there had been past enforcement, and it is not a requirement for a plaintiff to expressly plead the need for injunctive relief or to first seek a exemption from the DEA. The Court determined Oklevueha also had standing to bring the suit because the members would individually have standing, the interest in the suit was germane because use of marijuana is the “sole purpose” of Oklevueha, and a remedy would benefit all members. On the claim for damages or return of the marijuana, the Court affirmed the district court and stated the government cannot return what has already been destroyed, and the applicable statute does not waive sovereign immunity to money damages. AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED and REMANDED IN PART.

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