The Arkansas Supreme Court said today that Carpenter Farms may proceed with arguments that it was unfairly denied review of its application for a permit to cultivate marijuana. 

In the decision, it also rebuffed Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s request that Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen be removed from all cases involving her office.

The state had tried to block the lawsuit from proceeding by claiming sovereign immunity, or the doctrine that the state may not be sued. The court said the lawsuit met exceptions to that doctrine in two respects.

The Court said Carpenter could pursue its claim that the Medical Marijuana Commission had not adopted model rules for ranking applications as required by statute and that denial of its application amounted to a violation of its constitutional equal rights protection. The farm’s permit was excluded from consideration for deficiencies in the application, but only after an initial scoring had ranked it sixth among applicants. The suit says others with similar errors in application remained under consideration but Carpenter was dismissed without notice or hearing.

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The court, in an opinion by Justice Rhonda Wood, said Carpenter couldn’t challenge the commission’s application of its rules or make the case an administrative appeal.

This was the case in which the state tried to have the lower court Judge Wendell Griffen removed from this and all cases involving the attorney general for his tough questioning of a lawyer in the attorney general’s office. That request was denied earlier. The Supreme Court addressed the claim of “demeaning behavior” further today. It said it had the power to remove the judge, but removal of Griffen “was not warranted on this record.”

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The court had a variety of concurring and dissenting opinions on various parts of the ruling. Chief Justice Dan Kemp joined the full opinion. Justice Shawn Womack joined all but the finding on model rules. Justice Karen Baker dissented from both the findings on allowing the lawsuit to proceed, saying the court had issued a blanket sovereign immunity rule that the state may not be sued. Justices Robin Wynne, Courtney Hudson and Jo Hart joined the majority at least as to the argument about model rules.

Here’s the full opinion.

The case now returns to Judge Griffen’s court on the more limited grounds.

 

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