United States District Court, D. Maryland
ELLEN L. HOLLANDER, District Judge.
Claimant Pil Black has filed a "Third Party Claim of Interest In Personal Property Subject To Preliminary Order of Forfeiture" (ECF 139), pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 853(n) and Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.2. In particular, Ms. Black claims ownership of several valuable items of jewelry that were gifts to her from Bryan E. Williams, a defendant in a large narcotics conspiracy.
Now pending is the "Government's Motion For Summary Judgment As To The Third Party Claim Of Pil Black" ("Motion, " ECF 398), filed pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.2(c)(1)(B), and supported by exhibits. Ms. Black has filed an opposition to the Motion. ("Opposition, " ECF 400). In addition, Ms. Black has filed a "Motion To Amend Responses To The Government's Requests For Admissions" ("Motion to Amend, " ECF 399), and has submitted her proposed responses. See ECF 399-1. In a consolidated submission, the government responded to Ms. Black's Motion to Amend and replied to her Opposition ("Reply, " ECF 401).
The motions have been fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary to resolve them. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I will GRANT Black's Motion to Amend (ECF 399). But, I will also GRANT the government's Motion (ECF 398).
I. Factual Background
On May 5, 2011, Bryan E. Williams and others were indicted in the District of Maryland on charges of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. ECF 1. In a Superseding Indictment filed on August 25, 2011 (ECF 59), the government charged Williams and five others with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. The conspiracy extended from August 2010 until May 2011. The Superseding Indictment included a forfeiture claim. See ECF 59 at 3-9.
In 2011, in the federal district court in Atlanta, Georgia, the government filed a civil complaint for forfeiture of various items, including those at issue here. See 11-cv-3226-RWS (N.D.Ga.). In 2012, that case was stayed, by consent, pending disposition of this case.
In an Information filed on January 5, 2012 (ECF 87), the government listed various properties that were allegedly derived from, involved in, or used to facilitate the commission of the offense. And, pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.2(a), it gave notice that the government would seek forfeiture of particular items that it claimed represented proceeds of the offense charged in the Superseding Indictment. The list of items included assorted jewelry seized from the residence of Ms. Williams on Evergreen Trail in Atlanta, Georgia, such as an 18kt white gold diamond tennis bracelet, valued at $104, 000. See ECF 59 at 4 (items xiii and xiv); ECF 398-2 at 9. At the relevant time, Williams was Ms. Black's boyfriend. See ECF 398-2 at 2.
On May 8, 2012, a Superseding Information was filed as to Bryan Williams. ECF 102. He was charged with conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine in or about April 2011. Id. The Superseding Information also contained a forfeiture claim as to $5, 000, 000, as well as to various items of property, including the jewelry at issue here. Id.
Williams entered a plea of guilty on May 9, 2012. ECF 104. In his Plea Agreement (ECF 106), Williams agreed to forfeit to the government all items listed in the Superseding Indictment and the Criminal Information, except as expressly provided in the Plea Agreement. See ECF 106 ¶ 12. In particular, Williams agreed to the forfeiture all specified property, with the exception of one parcel of real property and one vehicle. See Consent Order of Forfeiture, ECF 126. All other property, including the jewelry at issue here, was deemed forfeited to the government. Id.
In the Consent Order of Forfeiture (ECF 126), the government was authorized to conduct discovery, if needed, and to consider any third party claims to the forfeited property. Id. On July 9, 2012, Ms. Black asserted an ownership claim to three items of jewelry listed in the Superseding Indictment. ECF 139. Specifically, Ms. Black claimed ownership of a bracelet with black onyx and diamonds (Asset ID 11-DEA-547317); one platinum Rolex watch, Presidential Style, serial number M702929 (Asset ID 11-DEA-547317); and one 18kt white gold diamond tennis bracelet (Asset ID 11-DEA-547324). According to Ms. Black, the items were gifts to her from Williams. See, e.g., ECF 398 at 3; ECF 399-1 at 1.
On December 23, 2014, the government served interrogatories upon claimant in an attempt to establish the basis of her claim in this case. ECF 398 at 3. By letter dated January 16, 2015, the government advised the Court that counsel had reached an agreement in principle, but that the claimant had rejected it. See ECF 394; 398-1. In the government's status report to the Court dated January 16, 2015 (ECF 394), the government also advised that it sent discovery requests to counsel in an effort to move the case forward.
Thereafter, on February 19, 2015, the government propounded requests for admissions to Ms. Black, by mail, in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 36 and Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.2(c)(1)(B). ECF 398 at 3; ECF 398-2. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 36, the claimant's response was due no later than March 24, 2015. As of the government's filing of its Motion on April 7, 2015, however, Ms. Black had not responded to the government's interrogatories or requests for admissions. ECF 398 at 3. In its Motion, the government relied on Ms. Black's failure to respond to the requests for admissions.
On April 21, 2015, i.e., two weeks after the government filed its Motion, Ms. Black filed her Motion to Amend. ECF 339. There, Ms. Black acknowledged that the government served its requests for admissions on February 19, 2015. ECF 399 ¶ 2. Moreover, Ms. Black acknowledged that she did not timely file responses, which were due within 30 days of service, as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(a). Id. ¶ 3. However, Ms. Black maintained that the granting of her Motion to Amend "would promote the presentation of the merits of this case and would not prejudice the Government on the merits." ECF 399 ¶ 6. Further, she contended that she "has strong grounds for why she is entitled to the claimed property." Id. ¶ 7.
In particular, Ms. Black posited that, as defined by 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6), she is "an innocent owner" and a "bona fide purchaser for value." Id. ¶ 7. However, she offered no explanation for her failure to ...