Federal lawsuit about something illegal at the Federal level

OK, yes, this is going to use marijuana as an example, but only because I can’t think of anything else.

Let’s say that two people, each from a different state such that marijuana is legal in both states, get into a dispute over the marijuana business such that a Federal court would have original jurisdiction. Further assume that this is actually going to happen, nobody’s interested in not going to trial, and that marijuana is illegal at the Federal level when it happens.

What would happen? Would both of the parties go to prison? Would the DEA be waiting at the courthouse steps? Would the lawyers be sanctioned?

(American law. Obviously. Does stuff like this even come up in other countries?)

Isn’t this basically the “he stole my weed” scenario moved to the federal level? If people from different states get into a dispute over a marijuana business, that would automatically mean they’re involved with interstate trafficing in marijuana, which isn’t legal, no matter what state either of them are in.

Generally speaking, the federal court will simply refuse to enforce the contract. The US Supreme Court has previously addresed the issue:

Marijuana remains a controlled substance under federal law, regardless of its legality in state law. So the parties attempting to bring the civil suit before a federal judge will be out of luck.

How is an “immoral” act defined? It seems that using the term “illegal or immoral act” implies that there are certain acts that, while legal, are immoral, and that a Court of justice will not lend its aid to support such legal-but-immoral acts. Is “immoral” defined by the personal opinions of the judge? Is there a US Code of Morality that sits parallel to the (legal) US Code that defines what acts are immoral? Can anyone give an example of one of these legal-but-immoral acts? Maybe helping your 23 year old sister to get married without mom finding out? If you booked a wedding venue for her and then had to sue because the venue wouldn’t deliver, could the venue claim that since getting married (as an adult) without telling your parents is immoral (though legal), the court should not aid said wayward adult children who are going to make mom cry?

The language I quoted is from Justice Marshal, who drafted the decision in 1826. The case is still cited by federal courts today, but generally to support the proposition that illegal acts will not be enforced. I don’t remember a recent case where a court has cited the case to decline to to decide an “immoral” agreement.

Funny, I recall a case very similar… some guys agreed to share the lawyer costs over an “incident”. Then the charges were dropped against one guy (insufficient evidence) and he refused to chip in for the other guys’ defence. The lawyer who told me about this said it likely fell in the category of “contracts concerning illegal activity cannot be enforced”. So even something dealing with an illegal act peripherally is not a valid contract, sufficiently “tainted”.

Perhaps the “immoral” is an out for excusing behaviour that is not technically illegal but the court has no interest in forcing someone to do. (Trying to imagine something contractual that qualifies… Maybe: “If I don’t pay my debt on time, I promise to give you my mother’s ashes so you can urinate in the urn…”)

Right, but part of my question was the extent and nature of their lack of fortune. Is there an explicit reason the DEA wouldn’t show up? I know enforcing those laws isn’t a priority, but if you throw yourself into the lion’s mouth, you don’t expect to complain about his halitosis afterwords.

Let me just observe that the likely outcome of such a dispute that cannot be enforced in a court is that both sides will hire enforcers. That is the reason organizations, such as the mafia, end up resorting to violence to settle disputes. The courts will not intervene and they basically have no choice.

This is one of the biggest reasons why I support full Federal legality. Illegal drug manufacturers and distributors are one of the biggest causes of violence in Latin America and a big source of violence right here. Also, organized crime generally doesn’t pay taxes. I would rather let money go to honest, taxpaying American farmers who can settle disputes peacefully in court and not by blasting the other guy with a 45.

Agreed. But would, say, a Colorado state court enforce a marijuana sales contract? Those judges have taken an oath to uphold the Colorado and United States constitutions. Since the federal marijuana law is in compliance with the constitution (according to Raich) must that judge say, “Well, it is legal under state law, but illegal under federal law which also applies to Colorado. Therefore, this is a contract for an illegal substance, and this Court will not enforce the contract.”?

Do you really think a fully above-board operation in Colorado, for example, would hire armed enforcers to resolve disputes? A fully above-board operation such that the police know where they are and who they are?

I’m thinking an example might be if a legal marijuana grower in Washington starts advertising its product using a name that a Colorado legal marijuana grower has copyrighted (or do I mean trademarked?). So the Colorado company sues the Washington one.

The courts could either say that it’s a dispute over illegal drugs, so we won’t intervene, or could say that it’s a standard copyright case, regardless of the product, and decide based on that. I tend to think the courts would choose to hear the case. Like most bureaucracies, they don’t like to see people going elsewhere. And judges can certainly see the way the trend is going. (And haven’t many of the traditional 1960’s era names for good strains of marijuana already been trademarked by the tobacco companies? Presumably they think that they will be able to enforce these trademarks in court.)

Another example might be in Nevada, where prostitution is legal. Suppose a hard-working prostitute in a legal Nevada brothel claims that his/her employer is forcing them to work more than 8 hours per day without paying overtime pay at time-and-a-half , as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (federal). Could a court refuse to hear such a case, claiming that it is a contract for ‘immoral’ activity? Heck, I bet such a case has already come up in Nevada, Or maybe the litigants kept it within Nevada state courts.

Trademarked, although how a company would trademark a name for a product that’s illegal at the Federal level is yet another Interesting Question For Our Times.

Can’t speak for other countries, but it couldn’t arise in Canada, for a couple of reasons.

First, the federal Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction over the criminal law. Only Parliament can legalise the use of marijuana, not the provinces. So, you can’t have a situation where possession of marijuana is legal provincially but a crime federally.

Second, our federal court has much more limited jurisdiction than the US federal courts. In particular, there’s no diversity jurisdiction. So if Al from Alberta wants to sue Bert from British Columbia over a contract, Al normally has to sue in the provincial courts. The BC courts would definitely have jurisdiction, based on Bert’s residence in BC. The Alberta courts may also have jurisdiction, if the parties entered the contract in Alberta.

In either case, the provincial courts would be bound to apply the federal law which makes it an offence to traffick in marijuana.

Not necessarily. Joe sells pot to Sam in CO. Sam immediately resells in CO to another CO party. Sam moves to NY. Sam then fails to deliver the promised payment to Joe. There is diversity of citizenship at the time the action is filed so, given a sufficient amount in controversy, a federal district court should be able to hear the case. No idea what that court would do, mind you, but they could (must?) hear it.

Based on Wickard, the sale of pot in CO is part of interstate commerce, even though both parties are in CO and the pot never crosses a state boundary.

I’m not sure why this is relevant. I mean, it’s absolutely true. Constitutionally it is the reason why the federal government can prohibit intrastate sales of marijuana in Colorado where it would be otherwise legal.

But just because a particular sale might fall under the rubric of interstate commerce doesn’t mean that a dispute over that particular sale would end up in federal court. That would be a massive expansion of the dockets of federal courts.

What else can they do? Are you suggesting the temptation wouldn’t be there? That is why violence and reprisal is endemic in the illegal drug trade already, you can’t call on police and courts to protect you so what other option do you have?

The enforcers aren’t going to identify their employer, and the business will deny any knowledge of it.

jtgain, the reason I mentioned Wickard was to respond to the suggestion in post 15 that there could be a sale of pot where the sale itself wasn’t subject to federal legislative jurisdiction. As I understand it, any sale of an agricultural product is part of interstate commerce under Wickard, and thus subject to federal legislative jurisdiction.

Was not trying to suggest that any such sale would also be subject to federal judicial jurisdiction. The normal rules of diversity etc. would still apply.

If they are operating in open breach of federal law, I would hesitate to call them “fully above-board”.

grude has a good point. Suppose the supplier sells to the retailer, for the agreed price of $50,000. The retailer takes the pot and never pays the $50,000. Does the supplier just write off the lost $50,000 as a cost of doing business?