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United States v. One 2006 Range Rover

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 31, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiffs,
v.
ONE 2006 RANGE ROVER, VIN SALSF25466A968064, MARYLAND TAG 21669M4, ONE SILVER JEEP RUBICON VIN1C4HJWFG5DL553844 MARYLAND REGISTRATION 3AZ9686, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL W. GRIMM, JUDGE

         The United States of America (the "Government") seeks forfeiture of a silver Jeep Rubicon, VIN lC4HJWFG5DL553884, bearing Maryland Registration 3AZ9686 ("the Jeep") seized from Ricardo Lawson.[1] Lawson is the only individual who sought to contest the forfeiture of the Jeep, but he is now unopposed to the forfeiture action. Therefore, for the reasons discussed below, the Government's Motion for Default Judgment will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 20, 203,, the Metropolttan Area Drug Task Force and Homeland Security Investigations ("law enforcement") took possession of a UPS box they suspected contained narcotics. Horn Decl. ¶, ECF No. 1. Law enforcement turned the UPS box over to a UPS delivery person and began surveilling the box. Id. Law enforcement observed the delivery of the UPS box to Ricardo Lawson, who was operating the Jeep. Id. Lawson placed the UPS box in the Jeep, drove it to 501 69th Street, Seat Pleasant, Maryland, and dropped off the box. Id. at ¶¶ k-1. Subsequently, law enforcement seized the UPS box and found ten pounds of marijuana inside. Id. at ¶ p. The Jeep was seized on November 20, 2013, the same day Lawson delivered the UPS box. Id. at ¶ q.

         On September 29, 2014, the Government filed a Verified Complaint for Forfeiture against the Jeep for transporting a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. S 881(a)(4). Comp I., ECF No. 1. After filing a warrant for arrest against the Jeep on September 30, 2014, Warrant for Arrest, ECF NO.2, the Government filed a consent motion to stay the proceeding,, Consent Mot., ECF No., , pursuant to 18 U.S.C. S 981(g)(1). In its motion, the Government argued that because Ricardo Lawson intended to make a claim for the Jeep and because the "criminal investigation into the facts that gave rise to the seizure and filing of the civil forfeiture" was still ongoing, the civil forfeiture proceeding must be stayed because "the discovery process in this case would interfere with the Government's prosecution." Consent Mot. 1-2. I granted the stay on November 18, 2014, and tolled the filing deadlines for Ricardo Lawson during the pendency of the stay. Or., ECF NO.4.

         On April 19, 2016, I lifted the stay after Lawson consented to forfeiture of the Jeep. Mot. to Lift Stay, ECF No. 13; Order Lifting Stay, ECF No. 14. Subsequently, the Government filed for clerk's entry of default, ECF No. 15, which the clerk granted on June 22, 2016, ECF No. 16. The Government's Motion for Default Judgment as to the Jeep is now pending. Mot. Default J., ECFNo117.

         II. DISCUSSION

         "With respect to default judgmenss in proceedings that are in rem actions for forfeiture, both the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims (Supp. R.) apply . . . ." United States v. $85, 000.00 in U.S. Currency, Civil No. WDQ-1O-0371, 2011 WL 1063295, at *1 (D. Md. March 21, 211)) (quoting United States v. Approx. $24, 546.25 in U.S. Currency, No. 1:09-cv-00284-OWW-SMS, 2009 WL 3486370, at *1 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 23, 2009)); see also United States v. One 2003 Mercedes Benz CL500, No. PWG-11-3571, 2013 WL 5530325, at *2 (D. Md. Oct. 3, 2013). The Supplemental Rules state the requiremenss for a forfeiture in rem action arising from a federal statute, while the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure state the requiremenss for a default judgmen. Supp. R. G; Fed. R. Civ. P. 55. I will address each set of rules below.

         a. Supplemental Rule G(4)

         Supplemental Rule G states that, in a forfeiture action arising in rem from a federal statute, the Government must publish notice of the forfeiture action "within a reasonable time after filing the complaint or at a time the court orders." Supp. R. G(4)(a). Though the notice may be published "on an official internet government forfeiture site for at least 30 consecutive days, " Supp. R. G(4)(a)(iii)(B,, the notice must describe the property with reasonable particulartty and state the time to file a claim and to answer, Supp. R. G(4)(a)(ii). Finally, the Government must also "send notice ... to any person who appears to be a potential claimant on the facts known to the government." Supp. R. G(4)(b)(i).[2]

         With its Motion for Clerk's Entry of Default, the Government includes a Declaration of Publication that states the notice of a forfeiture action was published on October 3, 2014, four days after the Complaint was filed. Decl. of Publication, ECF No. 15-3. Further, the Government includes the affidavit of Evan T. Shea, Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Maryland, which states, "notice of the pendency of this case was posted on an official government internet site (www.forfeiture.gov) ... for thirty (30) consecutive days." Shea Aff. ¶ 6, ECF No. 15-1; see also Advertisement Certification Report, Mot. for Clerk's Entry of Default Ex. 2, ECF No. 15-3. Additionally, the Government's Notice stated the Jeep's vehicle identification number, the location and date of the seizure, the deadline to file a claim for the Jeep, and the deadline to file an Answer to the Complaint. Notice of Forfeiture, Mot. for Clerk's Entry of Default Ex. 2. Therefore, the Government's notice satisfies all of Supp. R. G(4)(a)ss publication requirements.

         Finally, because "Ricardo Lawson [was] the only person who reasonably appear[ed] to be a potential claimant, " the Government only mailed the Complaint and related documents to him. Shea Aff. ¶¶ 4, 5. Therefore, the Government gave notice "to any potential claimant on the facts known to the government" pursuant to Supp. R. G(4)(b) and this notice satisfies all of Supp. R. G(4)'s requirements.

         b. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 55, "the Court cannot enter a default judgment unless it 'determines that the unchallenged factual allegations constitute a legitimate cause of action''" One 2003 Mercedes Bern CL500, 2013 WL 5530325, at *2 (alterations omitted) (quoting Agora Fin., LLC v. Samler,725 F.Supp.2d 491, 494 (D. Md. 2010)). Although "[t]he Court accepts as true the well-pled facts in the plaintiffs complaint, ... it remains for the Court to determine whether the unchallenged factual allegations 'support a claim and the relief sought."" $85, 000.00 in U.S. Currency, 2011 WL ...


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