US v. A Single Story Double Wide Trailer, Civ. A. No. 89-127-JLL.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
Writing for the CourtJohn A. Sergovic, Jr., Georgetown, Del., for defendant Charles Peterson
Citation727 F. Supp. 149
Decision Date08 December 1989
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 89-127-JLL.
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. A SINGLE STORY DOUBLE WIDE TRAILER, gray in color with black bars on the windows, located at R.D. 4, Box 382E, Seaford, Delaware, Serial No. 100165ABX; etc., and Charles Peterson, Defendants.

727 F. Supp. 149

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,
v.
A SINGLE STORY DOUBLE WIDE TRAILER, gray in color with black bars on the windows, located at R.D. 4, Box 382E, Seaford, Delaware, Serial No. 100165ABX; etc., and Charles Peterson, Defendants.

Civ. A. No. 89-127-JLL.

United States District Court, D. Delaware.

December 8, 1989.


727 F. Supp. 150

William C. Carpenter, Jr., U.S. Atty., and Carolyn T. Greene, Asst. U.S. Atty., Wilmington, Del., for plaintiff.

John A. Sergovic, Jr., Georgetown, Del., for defendant Charles Peterson.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LATCHUM, Senior District Judge.

I. BACKGROUND

The United States filed a complaint for forfeiture in rem, and a warrant for the arrest, of a single story double wide trailer, gray in color with black bars on the windows, located at R.D. 4 Box 382E, Seaford, Delaware (Docket Item "D.I." 1) and other personal property on March 16, 1989.1 The complaint alleged that the defendant property either constituted proceeds traceable to or was intended to facilitate illegal drug transactions conducted by Eric Batson ("Batson"). The warrant provided for a ten day period during which claims could be filed, and a twenty day period after filing a claim to file an answer. Accordingly, the last day a claim could be filed was March 26; the last day for an answer, Saturday, April 15.

727 F. Supp. 151

Batson claimed ownership to all items listed in the complaint, except for the double wide trailer and a Chevy Blazer (D.I. 7). Batson stated that the trailer was owned by Charles Peterson ("Peterson"). An amended complaint (D.I. 8) was filed on April 12, followed shortly by a supplemental amended complaint filed on April 14 (D.I. 9). Batson's answer to the supplemental amended complaint again denied ownership of the trailer. See D.I. 11 (filed April 19).

Peterson accepted service of a summons and complaint concerning the trailer pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(c)(2)(C)(ii) on April 26 (D.I. 17). Two days later the United States served Peterson with a request for documents. See D.I. 32 at Exhibit ("Ex.") 2. Peterson never responded to this request. The United States Attorney entered default and moved for default judgment on May 5 (D.I. 19). This motion alleged that notice giving claimants twenty days to file claims for the property of concern in the complaint was published, pursuant to court order, on April 12. The motion further alleged that May 2 was the twentieth day after publication and that no claim for the trailer had been filed. This Court entered an Order of Default Judgment and a Decree of Forfeiture on May 9 (D.I. 19).

Peterson first telephoned the United States Attorney's office on or about May 31, 1989. Peterson was not heard from again until September 21, when his attorney entered an appearance (D.I. 24). On the same date a motion "for stay in proceedings to enforce a judgment and to open judgment" was filed pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 60 and 62 (D.I. 25).2

II. DISCUSSION

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) permits a district court to set aside a default judgment if the moving party can show "(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect ... (3) fraud ... misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party ... (6) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment." Default judgments are not favored in the Third Circuit; any doubts must be resolved in favor of the moving party so that the case may be heard on the merits. See United States v. $55,518.05 in United States Currency, 728 F.2d 192, 194-95 (3d Cir.1984); see also United States v. One Parcel of Real Property, 763 F.2d 181, 183 (5th Cir.1985) ("because modern federal procedure favors trials on the merits, `an abuse of discretion need not be glaring in order to justify reversal.'" (citation omitted)).

The decision to set aside a default judgment is within the discretion of the district court. See One Parcel of Real Property, 763 F.2d at 183; $55,518.05 in United States Currency, 728 F.2d at 194. The court must, however, apply three factors in order to properly exercise its discretion: "(1) whether the plaintiff will be prejudiced; (2) whether the defendant has a meritorious defense; (3) whether the default was the result of the defendant's culpable conduct." $55,518.05 in United States Currency, 728 F.2d at 195; see One Parcel of Real Property, 763 F.2d at 183; United States v. United States Currency in the Amount of Seven Thousand Five Hundred Thirty-One Dollars ($7,531), 716 F.Supp. 92, 93 (E.D.N.Y.1989); United States v. Real Property Located in Sevier County, 703 F.Supp. 1306, 1310 (E.D.Tenn. 1988).

Prejudice, in this context, may be shown by delay that makes discovery more difficult, causes the loss of evidence, or increases the probability of fraud or collusion. See Real Property Located in Sevier County, 703 F.Supp. at 1310. The United States does not argue that it has been prejudiced by Peterson's actions. See D.I. 32 at 12.

In order to meet the burden of showing the existence of a meritorious defense, the claimant need not conclusively prove his case. Peterson must show that his allegations, if proved true at trial, would establish a complete defense to the

727 F. Supp. 152
forfeiture. See $55.518.05 in United States Currency, 728 F.2d at 195. In his Opening Brief, Peterson alleges that he "was guilty of no wrongdoing ... and had no knowledge of any illegal acts committed in or around" the trailer. D.I. 29 at 6; see id. at 16. The Court will consider this an assertion of the "innocent owner defense," as provided for in § 881(a)(4)(C) and § 881(a)(7).3 The Third Circuit has held that a claimant "can show innocent ownership by proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the illegal use of the property occurred either without his knowledge or without his consent." United States v. Parcel of Real Property Known as 6109 Grubb Road, 886 F.2d 618, 626 (3d Cir.1989).4

Peterson bears the burden of pleading facts that, if proven at trial, would show that if the trailer were used for illicit purposes, it was without his knowledge or without his consent. In support of his defense, Peterson alleges only that: (1) he is innocent of wrongdoing, see D.I. 29 at 12, 16; (2) that he had no knowledge of illegal activity, see id.; and (3) that he had no duty to monitor the activities going on at the trailer. See id. at 12.5 No factual allegations are made in support of the first two allegations. The pleading of conclusory statements or simple denials, without alleging the specific facts supporting the claim, is insufficient to establish a meritorious innocent owner defense. See $55,518.05 in United States Currency, 728 F.2d at 195. Peterson has failed to meet his burden of establishing the existence of a meritorious defense.

Further, a showing of a meritorious defense includes a demonstration that the claimant has the requisite standing to assert his claim. Peterson never filed a verified claim for the trailer, as required by Rule C(6). See Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims, Rule C(6). Only by filing a verified claim, in accordance with C(6), can a claimant demonstrate that he has a sufficient interest in the seized item to satisfy standing requirements. In United States v. One 1978 Piper...

To continue reading

Request your trial
14 practice notes
  • US v. PROP. IDENT. AS $88,260.00 IN US CURRENCY, Civil Action No. 95-1163 (RMU).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • May 15, 1996
    ...claimants to follow the language of the Supplemental Rules to the letter."); United States v. A Single Story Double Wide Trailer, 727 F.Supp. 149, 152 (D.Del.1989) ("Only by filing a verified claim, in accordance with C(6), can a claimant demonstrate that he has sufficient interes......
  • U.S. v. Funds from Prudential Securities, No. Civ.A. 00-3046 RMU.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 18, 2002
    ...to a forfeiture complaint. One 1990 Mercedes Benz 300CE, 926 F.Supp. at 5 (applying United States v. A Single Story Double Wide Trailer, 727 F.Supp. 149, 152-153 (D.Del. 1989) (stating that "[o]nly by filing a verified claim, in accordance with C(6), can a claimant demonstrate that he ......
  • United States v. Funds from Prudential Securities, Civil Action No. 00-3046 (RMU) (D. D.C. 2002), Civil Action No. 00-3046 (RMU).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 1, 2002
    ...a forfeiture complaint. One 1990 Mercedes Benz 300 CE, 926 F. Supp. at 6 (applying United States v. A Single Story Double Wide Trailer, 727 F. Supp. 149, 152-153 (D. Del. 1989) (stating that "[o]nly by filing a verified claim, in accordance with C(6), can a claimant demonstrate that he......
  • U.S. v. Funds from Prudential Securities, No. CIV.A.00-3046(RMU).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • January 29, 2004
    ...a verified claim in an in rem forfeiture action to acquire statutory standing); United States v. A Single Story Double Wide Trailer, 727 F.Supp. 149, 152-53 (D.Del.1989) (stating that "[o]nly by filing a verified claim, in accordance with C(6), can a claimant demonstrate that he has a ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • US v. PROP. IDENT. AS $88,260.00 IN US CURRENCY, Civil Action No. 95-1163 (RMU).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • May 15, 1996
    ...claimants to follow the language of the Supplemental Rules to the letter."); United States v. A Single Story Double Wide Trailer, 727 F.Supp. 149, 152 (D.Del.1989) ("Only by filing a verified claim, in accordance with C(6), can a claimant demonstrate that he has sufficient interes......
  • U.S. v. Funds from Prudential Securities, No. Civ.A. 00-3046 RMU.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 18, 2002
    ...to a forfeiture complaint. One 1990 Mercedes Benz 300CE, 926 F.Supp. at 5 (applying United States v. A Single Story Double Wide Trailer, 727 F.Supp. 149, 152-153 (D.Del. 1989) (stating that "[o]nly by filing a verified claim, in accordance with C(6), can a claimant demonstrate that he ......
  • United States v. Funds from Prudential Securities, Civil Action No. 00-3046 (RMU) (D. D.C. 2002), Civil Action No. 00-3046 (RMU).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 1, 2002
    ...a forfeiture complaint. One 1990 Mercedes Benz 300 CE, 926 F. Supp. at 6 (applying United States v. A Single Story Double Wide Trailer, 727 F. Supp. 149, 152-153 (D. Del. 1989) (stating that "[o]nly by filing a verified claim, in accordance with C(6), can a claimant demonstrate that he......
  • U.S. v. Funds from Prudential Securities, No. CIV.A.00-3046(RMU).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • January 29, 2004
    ...a verified claim in an in rem forfeiture action to acquire statutory standing); United States v. A Single Story Double Wide Trailer, 727 F.Supp. 149, 152-53 (D.Del.1989) (stating that "[o]nly by filing a verified claim, in accordance with C(6), can a claimant demonstrate that he has a ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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