United States District Court, D. Maryland
Frederick Motz United States District Judge
Tommie Washington ("Washington") seeks the return
of $8, 020.00 in cash which he claims was taken by government
officials at the time of his arrest and prosecution. (ECF 1,
6). The government, on behalf of the named defendants, filed
a response to Washington's complaint, which it properly
construed as a motion to set aside an administrative
declaration of forfeiture pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §
983(e)(5) ("A motion under this subsection
shall be the exclusive remedy for seeking to set aside a
declaration of forfeiture under a civil forfeiture
statute."). (ECF 11). Washington has filed a reply. (ECF
matter is fully briefed and ready for disposition, as a
hearing is unnecessary to resolve the issues. See
Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For reasons to follow,
Washington's forfeiture complaint, as amended, will be
construed as an administrative declaration of forfeiture and
18 U.S.C. § 983(e), an "interested party" may
move to set aside a declaration of forfeiture if (i) the
government failed to take reasonable steps to provide him
with notice, and (ii) the moving party did not otherwise know
or have reason to know of the forfeiture in time to file a
United States v. Minor, 228 F.3d 352 (4th Cir.
2000), the Fourth Circuit indicated the burden is on the
government to show that it took "reasonable steps"
to provide actual notice to a federal prisoner at his place
of pretrial detention. Service of notice on relatives,
defense counsel, or at a former residence does not suffice.
Deciding whether the government's efforts were reasonable
is a "context-specific inquiry." Minor,
228 F.3d at 358. While the court must assess whether the
steps taken by the government were "reasonable, it bears
noting that Washington, unlike Minor, was released
pending trial. See United States v. Washington,
Criminal No. JFM-12-0635 (D.Md.).ECF 11.
August 27, 2012, Washington was arrested at his home at 9520
Perry Hall Boulevard, Apartment 102, Nottingham, Maryland. At
the time of his arrest, Washington had on his person 50
capsules of heroin and a key to the apartment. Drug
Enforcement Agency ("DEA") agents executing the
search warrant at the apartment found an additional 350
capsules of heroin, powdered heroin, and packaging and
equipment used to process heroin for distribution.
See Plea Agreement, United States v.
Washington, Criminal No. JFM-12-0635. That same day, DEA
agents also executed a search and seizure warrant at the
residence of Sheree Monique Sumler, 4264 Cowan Place,
his arrest, Washington pleaded guilty to one count of
possession with intent to distribute one hundred grams or
more of heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. §841.
Forfeiture of the seized money was not part of the plea
agreement. On April 26, 2013, Washington was sentenced to a
term of 60 months of imprisonment.
claims he never received notice of the seizure of money from
the Belcamp residence. He argues that the government should
have served him with notice at the federal pretrial services
office to which he reported prior to trial. (ECF 15 at p. 1).
He further contends that his earlier attempts to determine
the whereabouts of the money pursuant to a Rule 41(g) motion
were ignored. (Id. at p. 2). He also contends
that providing notice of an impending forfeiture in the
Wall Street Journal is not designed to provide
actual notice to "a black male from Baltimore
and undisputed records submitted by government counsel show
that on September 24, 2012, the DEA sent notice of the
seizure and administrative forfeiture proceedings by
certified mail to Sumler at 4264 Cowan Place, Belcamp,
Maryland, and to Washington at three addresses: the Cowan
Place residence, 1303 Queens Purchase Road, Essex, Maryland,
and 9520 Perry Hall Boulevard, Apartment 102, Perry Hall,
Maryland. (ECF 11-1, Affidavit of Vicki L. Rashid
("Rashid Decl.") at ¶¶ 4(a), 4(b), 4(d)).
The notices addressed to Sumler and Washington at 4264 Cowan
Place, Belcamp, Maryland, were signed for by Sumler and
received on September 28, 2012. (Rashid Decl. at ¶¶
4(b), 4(d), and Ex. 2 and 6 attached thereto). The notices
sent to Washington at the Essex and Perry Hall addresses were
returned to the DEA undelivered. (Rashid Decl. at
¶¶ 4(c), 4(e)).
October 8, 2012, notice of the seizure was published in the
Wall Street Journal. Pursuant to 28 C.F.R. §
8.9(a)(1)(i), notice was published in the Wall Street
Journal for two additional consecutive weeks, on October
15 and October 22, 2012. Each published notice indicated the
deadline to file a claim and explained the option of filing a
petition for remission or mitigation. (Rashid Decl. at ¶
4(f) and Ex. 9).
December 11, 2012, the DEA sent three additional written
notices to Washington: one via first class mail to 9520 Perry
Hall Boulevard, Perry Hall, Maryland; and one via certified
mail and one via first class mail to P.O. Box 1103, Edgewood,
Maryland. (Rashid Decl. at ¶¶ 4(g)-(i)). The notice
sent to the Perry Hall address was not returned to the DEA.
(Rashid Decl. at ¶ 4(g)). Both notices sent to
Washington at the Edgewood ...