23 F.3d 359 (11th Cir. 1994), 93-2051, United States v. Lot 5, Fox Grove, Alachua County, Fla.

Docket Nº:93-2051.
Citation:23 F.3d 359
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, Counter-Defendant, v. LOT 5, FOX GROVE, ALACHUA COUNTY, FLORIDA, Defendant, Savanah Wims, Claimant-Appellant, Eng, Denman & Assoc., Inc., Claimant-Counter-Claimant, Manufacturers & Traders Trust Co., Claimant-Counter-Claimant.
Case Date:June 22, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Page 359

23 F.3d 359 (11th Cir. 1994)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, Counter-Defendant,



Savanah Wims, Claimant-Appellant,

Eng, Denman & Assoc., Inc., Claimant-Counter-Claimant,

Manufacturers & Traders Trust Co., Claimant-Counter-Claimant.

No. 93-2051.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

June 22, 1994

Page 360

Robert S. Griscti, Gainesville, FL, for appellant.

Robert D. Stinson, Asst. U.S. Atty., Tallahassee, FL, for appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Before COX, Circuit Judge, JOHNSON, Senior Circuit Judge, and PAINE [*], Senior District Judge.

JOHNSON, Senior Circuit Judge:

Savanah Wims ("Claimant") appeals the district court's civil forfeiture order of her residential property. Upon review, we affirm.


In April 1992, the United States filed a forfeiture complaint against Claimant's residence, described as "Lot Five, Fox Grove, Alachua County, Florida," pursuant to 21 U.S.C.A. Sec. 881(a)(7) (West Supp.1994). The government alleged that the property was used to commit, or facilitate the commission of, federal narcotics law violations. Claimant filed a timely claim to the property. Among her defenses, she pleaded: (1) innocent ownership under Sec. 881(a)(7) and (2) homestead protection under Article X, Sec. 4 of the Florida Constitution.

At a pretrial conference in January 1993, the court denied Claimant's contention that the Florida homestead provision prevents federal forfeiture of the property. After jury selection, the court held a bifurcated probable cause hearing in which the government presented two witnesses, Detective James Brown of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office and Special Agent Michael Lee of the Drug Enforcement Agency.

During Detective Brown's investigation of the drug conspiracy underlying the forfeiture, he interviewed Tim Wims, one of Claimant's stepsons, concerning Claimant's role in the conspiracy. Tim Wims stated that (1) he had left $25,000 from drug sales with Claimant at the forfeited property; (2) he drew down on that amount over time; (3) Claimant knew her husband, Roosevelt Wims, and stepsons dealt drugs; and (4) he overheard conversations at the forfeited property between Roosevelt Wims and Pablo Cruz, a drug supplier. Tim Wims also reported that Claimant had held and counted drug money that Otis Brown, another stepson, had delivered to her residence. Detective Brown confirmed this story through interviews with Otis Brown and Deon Wims, another of Claimant's stepsons.

Additionally, Detective Brown testified that Cruz told him that he sold Roosevelt

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Wims at least one hundred kilograms of cocaine during the course of the conspiracy and that he and Roosevelt Wims discussed drug transactions while at the property. Detective Brown further testified that Otis Brown told him that he and Roosevelt Wims had stored a truck containing two kilograms of cocaine in the forfeited property's garage before transferring the cocaine to Claimant's automobile, which was later driven to J.C. Wims, Roosevelt Wims' brother, who distributed drugs in New York. 1 Western Union records showed that J.C. Wims transferred to Claimant several large sums of money.

Shortly after beginning her case, Claimant sought and was granted a recess to speak with her counsel. Claimant then stipulated to probable cause, stating that the government told her it intended to indict her for the criminal conduct underlying the forfeiture action. Claimant therefore requested a one-day continuance, which was granted; however, the court denied Claimant's motion to dismiss the case based on the homestead provision and on the Self-Incrimination and Due Process Clauses of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The next morning, Claimant moved for a stay of the forfeiture case until resolution of the expected criminal prosecution, which, along with Claimant's renewed motion to dismiss, was denied. Rather than presenting a defense, Claimant rested. As Claimant presented no evidence contradicting the government's evidence of probable cause, the court ordered the forfeiture of the residence.


Claimant raises two issues on appeal: (1) whether the court erred by ruling that Sec. 881(a)(7) preempts the homestead provision of the Florida Constitution; and (2) whether the court abused its discretion by not staying the civil forfeiture trial pending resolution of the related criminal prosecution of Claimant. We review de novo the trial court's conclusion that the federal civil forfeiture statute preempts Florida homestead law. United States v. 15621 S.W. 209th Ave., 894 F.2d 1511, 1513 (11th Cir.1990) (conclusions of law are independently reviewed). We review the trial court's decision not to stay the civil forfeiture proceeding while a related criminal matter was contemplated for an abuse of discretion. See United States v. 566 Hendrickson Blvd., 986 F.2d 990, 996 (6th Cir.1993); United States v. 6250 Ledge Rd., 943 F.2d 721, 729 n. 9 (7th Cir.1991); United States v. Little Al, 712 F.2d 133, 135 (5th Cir.1983).

  1. The Supremacy Clause

    Claimant first contends that the district court erred by concluding that federal civil forfeiture law preempts Florida's constitutional homestead right. Claimant asserts that this ruling is inconsistent with the United States Supreme Court's decision in Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 111 S.Ct. 2395, 115 L.Ed.2d 410 (1991) and that we must therefore reverse the court's Order of Forfeiture. We disagree.

    The Supremacy Clause provides that the laws of the United States "shall be the supreme Law of the Land; ... any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the...

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