A holistic practitioner who was arrested by Oak Harbor police in March is suing the state Department of Health for $25 million.
C. Hugh Jonson filed the lawsuit in federal court in Seattle last month claiming that he should be able to practice “nedicine” — not to be confused with medicine — under a federal trademark. Jonson and the organization that issued his license are fighting on a national level to retain their right to practice their own brand of natural medicine.
“The threats and conduct of the state and its agents in attempting to interfere with my federally trademarked and licensed right to practice in the field of Nedicine under a regulated program of energetic natural medicine leaving me with no choice but to seek the protection of this court… ,” Jonson wrote in court documents.
Jonson was arrested in March by Oak Harbor police on suspicion of practicing medicine without a license after opening Whidbey Naturals on Highway 20 in December. His partner, Arely Jimenez-Beckius, was arrested the previous month for the same reason. To date, neither practitioner has ever had a license to practice medicine in the state of Washington.
Thwarting state requirements, Jonson claims in the lawsuit to be licensed under the American Nedicine Licensing Board, the brainchild of Beverly Jackson, a holistic practitioner in Connecticut who has filed a similar lawsuit. Jackson, who lists herself as the CEO of the American Nedicine Licensing Board, is suing the Connecticut Department of Public Health for $27 million using many of the same arguments as Jonson.
The education and certifications required by naturopaths as compared to conventional medical doctors is very similar, according to Jane Guiltinan, dean of the School of Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle, one of only five accredited natural medicine schools in the country.
In either case, the rigorous science-based training remains the same and state licensing is required, Guiltinan said.
“I think it’s a little crosshatched to think that anyone without a license could come in and say that they have a right to practice,” Guiltinan said. “That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”
Barbara Simons, a physician assistant at Water’s Edge Family Practice and Wellness Center in Langley, said that the medical staff there are all “Western trained” and have received their credentials from the state. The main difference is that instead of pursuing traditional medications and treatments, natural doctors use their training to safely prescribe acupuncture, massage and other non-pharmaceutical remedies.
“We’re not pill pushers,” Simons said.
In a telephone interview last month, Jackson explained that she worked for a couple of years to get the Doctor of Nedicine trademark approved in 2009 and used a Connecticut attorney for a recent renewal. The trademark for “Doctor of Nedicine” is registered under No. 3,765,779 with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for “alternative medical services related to the practice of functional diagnostics and natural medicine.”
Jackson describes “nedicine” as a natural type of medicine that treats problems with the “informational part of the body,” a process she likened to repairing a computer.
“We are providing correct information to that chip so the computer can work properly again,” Jackson said.
Jackson started her organization originally as the Naturopathic National Council in 2004, but decided to veer away from naturopathic practices and redefine a new brand of treatment under the term “nedicine.”
A message left at a phone number listed on court documents for Jonson was not returned by press time.
At the heart of Jonson and Jackson’s legal arguments is a belief that a federal trademark should outrank state law according to the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution, which states that federal law should be “the law of the land.”
In addition to suing the state, the complaint also names the City of Oak Harbor, Police Detective Jim Hoagland and state Health Care Investigator Mitchell Anderson as defendants.
“Mitchell Anderson and J. Hoagland exceeded their statutory powers or acted unconstitutionally by attempting to overthrow the federal authority,” Jonson claims in his suit.
Hoagland declined to comment on the lawsuit but said that the local investigation into Jonson and Jimenez-Beckius is ongoing and police are still “tracking down victims.”
Jackson said that because the trademark carries a Class B designation, which covers the certification of services, she believes it allows for the certification of people to provide those services.
“It’s a very strong trademark,” Jackson said.
Under the American Nedicine Licensing Board, Inc., Jackson said she has initiated an American School of Nedicine, which she plans to get nationally accredited, and a Board of Examiners. She also has outlined requirements for licensure that mirror those of the state.
“Whatever states do to regulate, I did that,” Jackson said.
Denny Maher, director of legal affairs for the Washington State Medical Association, said he’s baffled by the organization’s approach through a federal trademark.
“It’s wild,” said Maher, who is licensed as both an attorney and a physician. “It really defies credibility.”
“What you’ve got is someone who is operating under a self-appointed license,” Maher said.
“What’s the purpose of a trademark? Sure they can trademark ‘Doctor of Nedicine,’ but as far as what that group does, I don’t see that as being protected.”
Maher said that while national standards exist to encourage conformity, it is up to each state to license its doctors and naturopaths.
“There is no federal medical license,” Maher said. “I don’t understand. We’ve always believed in the local regulation of medicine.”
Jonson has a history of run-ins with the law.
Under a slightly different name, Hugh Clarence Johnson was charged with multiple felonies in 1995 in Sonoma County Superior Court, Calif., according to news reports at the time in the Press Democrat.
Oak Harbor police confirmed earlier this year that this was Jonson, who was charged with 47 felonies “including fraud, forgery and possession of a firearm,” according to news reports. He was finally sentenced in 1996 to four years in state prison and $36,000 in restitution for insurance fraud and practicing medicine without a license, according to news reports.
Jonson, who has characterized himself as a retired attorney, is representing himself in the federal lawsuit.
Jonson was quoted in a Whidbey News-Times article from 2004 as a “former lawyer” who spoke on behalf of a Cornet Bay group before the Island County Board of Commissioners.
A search under all Jonson’s aliases with bar associations for both Washington and California yielded no record of Jonson ever having a license to practice law.