209 F.Supp.2d 259 (D.D.C. 2002), Civ. A. 00-3046, United States v. Funds from Prudential Securities

Docket NºCiv. A. 00-3046
Citation209 F.Supp.2d 259
Party NameUnited States v. Funds from Prudential Securities
Case DateJune 18, 2002
CourtUnited States District Courts, United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)

Page 259

209 F.Supp.2d 259 (D.D.C. 2002)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,

v.

FUNDS FROM PRUDENTIAL SECURITIES et al., Defendants.

No. Civ.A. 00-3046 RMU.

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

June 18, 2002

Linda Otani McKinney, U.S. Attorney's Office, Washington, DC, for U.S.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

URBINA, District Judge.

GRANTING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STRIKE; GRANTING THE PLAINTIFF'S REQUEST FOR A DEFAULT JUDGMENT; GRANTING THE PLAINTIFF'S REQUEST FOR A DECREE OF FORFEITURE

I. INTRODUCTION

This in rem civil forfeiture matter comes before the court by way of the government's

Page 260

("the plaintiff") motion to treat as conceded its motion to strike the claim of Latonya Curtis ("the claimant"), and its requests for a default judgment and a decree of forfeiture. The plaintiff's motion stems from the plaintiff's December 21, 2000 filing of a verified complaint for forfeiture in rem, seizing the claimant's $41,041.86 in financial account funds and a $50.00 money order to enforce the provisions of 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) and 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(A). After consideration of the parties' submissions and the relevant law, the court grants the plaintiff's motion striking the claimant's claim. The court also grants the plaintiff's requests for a default judgment and a decree of forfeiture, and treats them both as conceded.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

In February 1999, a joint task force including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development initiated an investigation of a large heroin trafficking organization run principally by Mr. Earl Garner, Sr.,1 the claimant's significant other. Compl. at 4, 6. The investigation allegedly revealed that the claimant assisted Mr. Garner in various aspects of his drug trafficking. Id. at 6. Court-authorized telephone monitoring of several members of the drug trafficking organization allegedly shows that the claimant, in addition to serving as Mr. Garner's confidant and advisor, stored contraband and/or drug proceeds at her residence in North Bethesda, Maryland. Id. Despite these allegations, and after considering the evidence against the claimant, the jury returned its verdict acquitting the claimant of the charge against her.2

B. Procedural History

On December 21, 2000, the plaintiff filed a verified complaint for civil forfeiture in rem against the claimant's bank account funds and money order totaling $41,091.86.3 The plaintiff alleges that the funds constitute proceeds traceable to violations of Title II of the Controlled Substances Act, as amended, 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq., and the anti-money laundering provisions under Title 18 U.S.C. § 1956. Pl.'s Mot. to Treat as Conceded at 2.

On January 25, 2001, the claimant responded to the verified complaint for forfeiture in rem. Id. at 3. According to the plaintiff, however, the claimant filed an unverified claim that fails to state her interest in the $41,091.86 of funds as is required by Rule C(6) of the Supplemental Rules of Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims ("Supplemental Rules"). Id.; FED.R.CIV.P. C(6). Additionally, the claimant failed to file an answer on or before the February 14, 2001 deadline. Pl.'s Opp'n to

Page 261

Claimant's Mot. to Late File Answer and Mot. to Strike ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 3, Ex. IV; Pl.'s Mot. to Treat as Conceded at 2. On March 5, 2001, the plaintiff sent a letter to the claimant and an attorney representing her in the related criminal matter. Pl.'s Mot. to Treat as Conceded at 3. The plaintiff's letter stated that the claim was defective and the time for filing an answer on February 14, 2001 had passed. Id.

In the March 5, 2001 letter, the plaintiff gave its consent for the claimant to have two additional weeks to file an answer, thereby extending the filing deadline to March 19, 2001. Id. The attorney representing the claimant in the related criminal matter responded to the March 5, 2001 letter, stating in a March 16, 2001 facsimile that he did not represent the claimant in the civil forfeiture matter at bar. Pl.'s Opp'n at 4, Ex. VII.

On April 27, 2001, the claimant, "on behalf of herself," filed an amended verified claim, a motion and incorporated memorandum to late-file an answer to the complaint, an answer, and a jury demand. Answer at 1. On May 1, 2001, the plaintiff filed an opposition to the claimant's motion to late-file her answer and a motion to strike the claimant's claim. According to the plaintiff, any opposition by the claimant to the plaintiff's motion to strike was due on or before May 21, 2001. Pl.'s Mot. to Treat as Conceded at 3. Consequently, on June 25, 2001, the plaintiff filed a motion to treat as conceded its motion to strike the claimant's claim, request for a default judgment, and a decree of forfeiture.4

Through the claimant's alleged failure to provide an answer to the plaintiff's motion to strike, the plaintiff asks this court to do the following: (1) treat its motion to strike the claimant's claim as conceded; (2) order default judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55, and; (3) enter a decree of forfeiture as to the $41,041.86 of seized funds. Pl.'s Mot. to Treat as Conceded at 1-4.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standards of Review

1. Legal Standard for a Motion to Strike

Courts generally bar claimants from proceeding in civil forfeiture actions if answers precede verified claims and have deemed it appropriate to strike the answer when no verified claim has been filed on a timely basis. United States v. One 1990 Mercedes Benz 300CE, 926 F.Supp. 1, 4 (D.D.C.1996) (citing United States v. U.S. Currency, etc., 754 F.2d 208, 213 (7th Cir. 1985)). Moreover, "verification is an essential and necessary element of any claim." Id. at 4 (quoting United States v. Beechcraft Queen Airplane, 789 F.2d 627, 630 (8th Cir. 1986)). Therefore, "it is appropriate to strike the answer filed by a putative claimant when no verified claim has been filed." Id. at 4 (citing Beechcraft, 789 F.2d at 630).

2. Legal Standard for Entering a Decree of Forfeiture

The Controlled Substances Act, as amended, 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq., provides

Page 262

for the forfeiture of all proceeds traceable to the exchange of controlled substances. 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. Title 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(A) provides for the forfeiture of any property, real or personal, involved or traceable to property involved in a violation of the anti-money laundering provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 1956. 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(A). "In a forfeiture action brought under 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) [and 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(A)] the government bears the initial burden of showing probable cause to believe that the property in question was intended to be used for the purpose of acquiring a controlled substance." United States v. $55,518.05 in U.S. Currency, 728 F.2d 192, 195-96 (3d Cir. 1984) (citing United States v. $2,500 in U.S. Currency, 689 F.2d 10, 12 (2d Cir. 1982); United States v. $83,320.00 in U.S. Currency, 682 F.2d 573, 576-77 (6th Cir. 1982)). As soon as "the government establishes probable cause, the burden of proof shifts to the [claimant] to show that the property was not used for this purpose." $83,320.00 in U.S. Currency, 682 F.2d at 576-77.

3. Legal Standard for Default Judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b) requires the plaintiff to apply to the court for a default judgment in all cases where the requirements for a clerk-entered default judgment cannot be met. FED.R.CIV.P. 55(b). In determining whether default judgment is appropriate, the D.C. Circuit has announced three criteria: (1) whether the defendant's lack of response was willful; (2) whether not entering default would prejudice the plaintiff, and; (3) whether the defendant will likely assert a meritorious defense. Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 836 (D.C.Cir. 1980).

B. The Court Grants the Plaintiff's Motion to Strike

To evaluate the plaintiff's motion to strike the claimant's amended verified claim, the court may consider whether or not the claimant's procedural default or lack of timeliness constitutes "excusable neglect." United States v. One 1979 Mercedes 450SE, 651 F.Supp. 351, 354 (S.D.Fla.1987). "[With] a pro se claimant, lack of filing a timely verified claim or answer to a motion to strike may constitute excusable neglect." Id. Additionally, "a district court may[,] in its discretion[,] extend the time for [the] filing of a verified claim." Id. at 353 (citing United States v.1982 Yukon Delta Houseboat, 774 F.2d 1432, 1435-37 (9th Cir. 1985)).

Here, the plaintiff opposes the claimant's motion to late-file her answer to the claim and moves to strike her claim. Pl.'s Opp'n at 2. Since the claimant has not opposed the plaintiff's motion to strike or requested an enlargement of time, the plaintiff asks the court to treat its various motions as conceded. Pl.'s Mot. to Treat as Conceded. Even if the court reviews the claimant's amended verified claim and answer in light of the technicalities of the in rem proceedings,5 the court's analysis of

Page 263

the issue would end because of the claimant's untimeliness and failure to adhere to the general requirements of the Supplemental Rules. One 1990 Mercedes Benz 300CE, 926 F.Supp. 1. The claimant, however, contends that she is a pro se litigant before the court and that the relevant standards of a pro se claimant should be applied to her and her claim. The plaintiff disagrees, stating that the claimant's "status as a pro se claimant is completely questionable." Pl.'s Opp'n at 4. Furthermore, the plaintiff provided the claimant with adequate notice of the in rem forfeiture through a copy of the complaint, warrant for arrest in rem, and publications in The Washington Law Reporter on March 30, 2001, and The Washington Times on April 25, 2001. Pl.'s Mot. to Treat as Conceded at 4; Pl.'s Opp'n, Exs. III-IV.

The...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT