The Florida Department of Health is asking an appeals court to block a lower-court judge from moving forward with a lawsuit in which a Martin County nursery argues it should receive a potentially lucrative medical-marijuana license.
The department went to the 1st District Court of Appeal last week in the dispute, which stems from nursery Edward Miller & Son Inc. being denied a marijuana license --- at least in part because the firm missed an application deadline by 27 minutes.
Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers had scheduled a trial to start Oct. 8. But the appeals court issued an order Friday that at least temporarily put the case on hold and gave Edward Miller & Son until Oct. 31 to respond to the state’s arguments that the lawsuit should be scuttled.
Attorneys for the department argued in last week’s petition that the licensing dispute should have gone through a state administrative court, rather than being filed in circuit court. The filing said the department has requested at least three times that Gievers not move forward with the case, but she rejected the department’s arguments, including turning down proposed summary-judgment rulings.
“Circuit courts are to abstain from exercising jurisdiction in matters where administrative remedies must first be exhausted,” the department petition said. “The avenue by which Miller seeks to obtain a license requires exhaustion of administrative remedies. Miller readily admits that it has not exhausted administrative remedies; it simply contends that it does not need to or that such remedies would not afford adequate relief.”
But in a filing last month in circuit court, Edward Miller & Son said it is challenging the department’s “wrongful denial” in 2015 of the application to become a marijuana “dispensing organization.” It also argued that, under a 2017 law, the department is required to grant a license if the nursery wins the lawsuit.
At least in part, Edward Miller & Son contends it was treated differently from other applicants who submitted information after the deadline.
“It is clear that this (Gievers’) court has jurisdiction to hear Miller’s claims and, further, to grant equitable relief based on the department’s improper and unequitable application of its rules as applied to Miller’s initial DO (dispensing organization) application,” last month’s circuit-court filing said.
The case is part of a flood of litigation during the past three years as Florida has started creating what is expected to be one of the largest medical-marijuana markets in the country. The industry started in 2014, when lawmakers approved limited use of non-euphoric cannabis --- and exploded after voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.
Much of the litigation has centered on firms trying to obtain a restricted number of licenses to grow, process and sell medical marijuana. Firms competed heavily in 2015 for an initial round of licenses with an eye toward an expanding marijuana market in the future.