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Doe v. State ex rel. The Legislature of 77th Session

Supreme Court of Nevada, En Banc

December 7, 2017

JOHN DOE, ON HIS OWN BEHALF AND ON BEHALF OF A CLASS OF THOSE SIMILARILY SITUATED, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF NEVADA EX REL. THE LEGISLATURE OF THE 77TH SESSION OF THE STATE OF NEVADA; THE STATE OF NEVADA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES; AND THE HONORABLE BRIAN SANDOVAL, IN HIS OFFICAL CAPACITY AS GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF NEVADA, Respondents.

         Appeal from a district court summary judgment in an action regarding Nevada's medical marijuana laws. Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County; Rob Bare, Judge.

          Hafter Law and Jacob L. Hafter, Las Vegas, for Appellant.

          Legislative Counsel Bureau Legal Division and Brenda J. Erdoes, Legislative Counsel, and Kevin C. Powers, Chief Litigation Counsel, Carson City, for Respondent State of Nevada ex rel. the Legislature of the State of Nevada.

          Adam Paul Laxalt, Attorney General, Jordan T. Smith, Assistant Solicitor General, and Linda C. Anderson and Gregory L. Zunino, Chief Deputy Attorneys General, Carson City, for Respondents State of Nevada Department of Health and Human Services and Governor of the State of Nevada.

          OPINION

          PARRAGUIRRE, J.

         In November 2000, the Nevada Constitution was amended to allow the possession and use of marijuana for the treatment or alleviation of various medical conditions. See Nev. Const, art. 4, § 38(1)(a). This amendment also required the Legislature to establish a registry of patients who were authorized to use marijuana for medical purposes. Id. § 38(1)(d). As a result, the Legislature enacted Assembly Bill 453, allowing registry identification cardholders to use medical marijuana without fear of state prosecution for certain marijuana-related offenses.[1] Subsequently, the Legislature established two fees to defray the costs of administering the registration program: an application fee and a processing fee.

         In this appeal, we are asked to determine whether Nevada's medical marijuana registry violates the Due Process, Equal Protection, or Self-incrimination Clauses of the United States or Nevada Constitutions. We hold Nevada's medical marijuana registry does not impinge upon a fundamental right, and the registry is rationally related to a legitimate state interest. Thus, we hold Nevada's medical marijuana registry does not violate the Due Process or Equal Protection Clauses. Finally, we hold Nevada's medical marijuana registry does not violate a registrant's right against self-incrimination. Therefore, we affirm the district court's order.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In 2015, appellant John Doe applied for, and received, a registry identification card after his doctor recommended he try medical marijuana to treat his migraine headaches. Doe subsequently filed suit against the Nevada Legislature, the Governor, and the Department of Health and Human Services (the DHHS) (collectively, respondents). In particular, Doe argued that the medical marijuana registry and its associated fees violated his due process and equal protection rights, and his right against self-incrimination. Doe also argued that the DHHS committed fraud and was unjustly enriched by the registration fees.

         Doe filed a motion for partial summary judgment on his self-incrimination claim and a countermotion for summary judgment on his due process and equal protection claims. The DHHS and the Governor filed motions to dismiss, and the Legislature filed a motion for summary judgment. Ultimately, the district court granted the respondents' motions, treating each as a motion for summary judgment. Specifically, the district court held that Doe failed to sue the proper state official-the Administrator of the Division of Public and Behavioral Health-for declaratory and injunctive relief. In addition, the district court denied Doe's request to amend his complaint, holding that such an amendment would be futile because Doe's constitutional claims lacked merit. Finally, the district court held that Doe's state-law tort claims were barred as a matter of law due to the State's sovereign immunity. Doe appealed.

         DISCUSSION

         On appeal, Doe argues (1) there is a fundamental right to access the health care recommended by licensed physicians under the Due Process Clause, (2) Nevada's medical marijuana registry violates that right under the Equal Protection Clause, and (3) the registry violates a registrant's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. "This court reviews constitutional challenges de novo." Rico v. Rodriguez, 121 Nev. 695, 702, 120 P.3d 812, 817 (2005). Nevada's medical marijuana registry does not impinge upon a fundamental right

         Doe argues that this court should recognize a new fundamental right to access the health care that a physician recommends to a patient, and that the registry and its associated fees impose an undue burden on a patient's ability to exercise this right. Respondents argue that Doe's asserted right is more accurately understood as a right to use medical marijuana and that no such fundamental right exists.

         The Due Process Clauses of the United States and Nevada Constitutions prohibit the State from depriving "any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const, amend. XIV, § 1; Nev. Const, art. 1, § 8(5). The United States Supreme Court has clarified that "[t]he Due Process Clause guarantees more than fair process, and the liberty it protects includes more ...


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