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United States v. One 2012 Honda Accord

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 12, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ONE 2012 HONDA ACCORD, VIN IHGCSIB82CA009993, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELLEN LIPTON HOLLANDER, District Judge.

This is a civil in rem proceeding to forfeit one 2012 Honda Accord, VIN IHGCSIB82CA009993. The defendant vehicle was seized from Janice Livingston during a traffic stop conducted by the Maryland Transportation Authority Police ("MTAP") on February 21, 2014. In a Verified Complaint For Forfeiture, filed by the government on April 16, 2014 (ECF 1), the government alleges that the vehicle is subject to forfeiture because it was used to facilitate the transportation, concealment, receipt, possession, and exchange of contraband, i.e., counterfeit United States currency. See 49 U.S.C. § 80302(a)(3) and (b); 49 U.S.C. § 80303.

Ms. Livingston, to whom the vehicle is registered, has not filed a claim. However, Andrew Taurosa filed a claim to the defendant vehicle on August 7, 2014, ECF 5, and he filed an Answer on August 25, 2014. ECF 7. Neither submission was made under oath, Thereafter, the government moved to strike the claim and the Answer as untimely and for lack of standing (the "Motion, " ECF 8). In addition, the government seeks an order of forfeiture.

The Motion is filed pursuant to Rule G(8)(c)(i)(A) of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty and Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions (the "Supplemental Rules"), based on Taurosa's failure to comply with Supplemental Rule G(5). In addition, pursuant to Rule G(8)(c)(i)(B), the government challenges Taurosa's standing. Taurosa has not responded to the Motion. No hearing is necessary to resolve it. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I will GRANT the Motion.

Factual Background

The government filed a Verified Complaint supported by the Declaration of Brent Hardie, a Special Agent with the United States Secret Service. See ECF 1 at 4-7. Hardie averred, under oath, that on February 21, 2014, MTAP observed the defendant vehicle, a 2012 black Honda Accord, two-door sedan, with New York license plate FYR 7715, swerve across multiple lanes of 1-95 in Maryland. A stop was effectuated, Corporal Coby of the MTAP approached the vehicle's passenger side and observed a woman, later identified by a New York driver's license as Janice Livingston, holding a plastic bag that appeared to contain marijuana. He also smelled marijuana emanating from the vehicle. Livingston admitted, in response to a question from Coby, that there was marijuana in the vehicle. The driver of the vehicle was asked to produce identification. She did not have a driver's license. Instead, she produced a New York Benefits Identification Card, identifying her as Crystal Harris. Id. at 4 ¶ f. During "a probable cause search of the vehicle, " $10, 000 in U.S. currency was recovered from the glove box of the vehicle. Id. at 5 ¶ g. Inspection of the currency suggested that it was counterfeit. Id. Other suspected counterfeit currency was recovered from the purse of Ms. Livingston. Id. at ¶ h.

Upon request by MTAP for a Special Agent, Agent Hardie responded to the scene. Hardie inspected the suspected counterfeit currency and, based on Hardie's training and experience, he determined that the currency was not genuine. Id. at 5 ¶¶ i, j.

During an interview, Harris waived her Miranda rights. Id. at 5 ¶ k. Harris indicated that she had asked Livingston about the money, and "Livingston informed her that it was counterfeit." Id. at 6 ¶ o. Livingston also agreed to an interview and waived her Miranda rights. However, she "denied knowing the money was counterfeit." Id at 6 ¶ p.

A New York Department of Motor Vehicle registration check revealed that the tag on the vehicle belonged to the Honda, and that the vehicle was registered to Janice Livingston. ECF 1 at 4 ¶ b. See also id at 6 ¶ q. The Honda was taken into custody by MTAP on February 21, 2014. Id. at 6 ¶ r.

A search of the U.S. Secret Service counterfeit-tracking database was conducted. ECF 1 at 7 ¶ s. It indicated that almost $30, 000 of the subject counterfeit $100 federal reserve notes had been passed in the United States since April 2012. Id.

On April 18, 2014, the government sent notice of the Verified Complaint (ECF 1) to Livingston, the registered owner of the subject vehicle, pursuant to Supplemental Rule G(4)(b)(i). See ECF 4 (Affidavit of Counsel) at 3 ¶ 5; ECF 4-1 (Exhibit A to Government's Request For Entry Of Default). Then, on June 2, 2014, the government wrote a letter to Ms. Livingston, in New York, advising that the government had sent her a notice of a civil complaint for forfeiture of the vehicle and that a claim was due by May 23, 2014. ECF 4 at 3 ¶ 5; ECF 4-1 at 7. The goverment stated, in bold, as follows: "As a courtesy, the government will grant an additional 21 days, i.e., until June 23, 2014, for you to file a claim and answer. Upon do not file a claim and answer by this deadline, the government will seek and the court may grant a default judgment of forfeiture against the defendant property." ECF 4-1 at 7. The deadline was extended again, until July 11, 2014, after email exchanges between counsel for Ms. Livingston and counsel for the government. ECF 4 at 4 ¶ 15; ECF 4-1 at 20-22.

In addition, beginning on April 19, 2014, notice of the pendency of this case was posted on an official government internet site for 30 consecutive days. ECF 4 at 4 ¶ 6; see also ECF 4-2 (Government Exhibit B, "Declaration of Publication"). An arrest warrant in rem was served on the defendant and filed with the court on June 3, 2014. See ECF 3.

No claim was filed by July 11, 2014. On July 14, 2014, the government requested the entry of default, pursuant to Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Local Admiralty Rule (c)(4), against the defendant and all persons claiming an interest in the property, for failure to file a timely claim, answer, or to otherwise defend. ECF 4. The request was supported by an Affidavit of counsel for the government as well as numerous documents. Government Exhibit A consists of 22 pages. As noted, Government Exhibit B contains a "Declaration of Publication" and the Notice, indicating that notice of civil forfeiture was posted on an official government internet site for at least 30 consecutive days, beginning on April 19, 2014, as required by Supplemental Rule G(4)(a)(iv)(c).

On August 7, 2014, Taurosa filed a "Verified Claim Of Interest" as to the defendant vehicle. ECF 5. And, he filed a "Verified Answer" on August 25, 2014. ECF 7. Despite Taurosa's use of the word ...


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