Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · December 29, 2022

CARSON CITY, Nev.—Today the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that people may sue government officials for monetary damages when their rights under the Nevada Constitution have been violated. The Institute for Justice (IJ), a non-profit law firm that defends property rights nationwide, participated in the oral argument in Mack v. Williams because the outcome could impact the case of Marine veteran Stephen Lara.

Stephen had his life savings seized from him during a February 2021 traffic stop by the Nevada Highway Patrol. Officers interrogated Stephen and took $87,000 in cash without arresting him or charging him with a crime. His savings were returned to him after he teamed with IJ to file a lawsuit challenging the forfeiture. His request for monetary damages for the violation of his rights was stayed awaiting the outcome of Mack v. Williams.

While attorneys for the state argued that nothing in Nevada law explicitly permitted lawsuits like Stephen’s, the Court found unanimously that, “We simply recognize the long-standing legal principle, that a right does not, as a practical matter, exist without a remedy for its enforcement.”

“The wheels of justice for Stephen Lara can finally move forward after being on hold for more than a year,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Ben Field. “Today’s decision will have an immediate impact both locally and nationally. Nationally speaking, this decision not only strikes a blow against civil forfeiture—the procedure that allows the government to take property without charging anyone with a crime—it also rejects the judge-made disaster that is qualified immunity. Like we urged, the Nevada Supreme Court holds that ordinary people like Stephen can sue for damages when police or prosecutors go over the line and violate the most basic guarantees in the state constitution.”

IJ will file a motion to lift the stay of Stephen’s lawsuit within the next seven days.