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California Pot Shop Wins Case, Loses Fee Motion

By George Khoury, Esq. on December 15, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM) fought the law, and even though the law didn't win, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the pot shop is not entitled to attorney fees, despite what the Equal Access to Justice Act says.

Basically, when the government acts foolishly in pursuing legal action and a private party must take legal action to stop it, those private parties can have their attorney fees paid back. In the MAMM case, the court found that the pot shop didn't necessarily win their case as much as the government just lost theirs, and that actually makes a significant difference when it comes to enforcing the attorney fee shift under the EAJA.

You Didn't Win, I Just Lost

As the Ninth Circuit explained, the EAJA provides fees to a "prevailing party" unless the government's action was "substantially justified" or "special circumstances make an award unjust." Furthermore, it explained that in order to be a "prevailing party," the court must make some form of judicial pronouncement that affects the behavior of the non-prevailing party.

In MAMM's case, the pot shop sought a federal court order dissolving a 2002 permanent injunction preventing it from operating. In the end, the federal district did not dissolve the injunction. However, the district court did explain that a piece of legislation passed in 2015 effectively stopped the federal government from enforcing the 2002 injunction so long as MAMM operated within the confines of state law. Due to this nuance, the court ruled that MAMM did not prevail in their action because the court did not order the government to do, or stop doing, anything.

A Win Is a Win

Although MAMM's request for attorney fees has been denied, and the courts are refusing to declare the dispensary a prevailing party, it's clear that MAMM walked away from the case a winner. The dispensary's counsel, who may just be one of the coolest attorneys ever (he even has his own Wikipedia page), clearly was not pleased with the decision.

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