United States District Court, D. Maryland
Lipton Hollander, United States District Judge.
United States of America filed a Verified Complaint for
Forfeiture, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6), with
respect to $30, 020.00 in U.S. currency that was seized from
a Priority Mail package in August 2016. ECF 1 (Complaint). It
is supported by the Declaration of Darshelle Thombs, a U.S.
Postal Inspector. ECF 1-1.
package was addressed to "Gabe Newman" at an
address in Sacramento, California. Id. at 1. It had
a return address label for "Mel Newman" in
Stevenson, Maryland, for whom no records were found.
Id. The package was seized at a postal facility in
Maryland following an alert by a drug detection dog, which
indicated the presence of a controlled substance. ECF 1-1 at
2. A search warrant was subsequently obtained. Id.
The United States claims that the currency is subject to
forfeiture because it was intended to facilitate a violation
of the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 841. ECF
claimant Karla S. Newman, the mother of the addressee,
Gabriel Newman, submitted a Verified Claim for the currency
on March 15, 2017. ECF 3. She asserted that her son died in
September 2016 and, as his next of kin, she is entitled to
claim the money on his behalf. Id. at 1. Also on
March 15, 2017, Ms. Newman filed an Answer to the Complaint
(ECF 4), alleging that her son (the "Decedent") was
a semi-professional gambler who frequently mailed money
because he "cannot carry more than $10, 000.00 on his
person when flying" (id. at 1), and he
"frequently shipped his gambling stake money ahead of
time." Id. at 2. She also asserted that she had
no reason to believe the money was connected to the drug
trade. Id. at 2.
September 13, 2017, the United States filed a Motion to
Strike the Claim and Answer of Karla Newman, pursuant to Rule
G(8)(c)(i)(B) of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or
Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions, claiming Ms.
Newman lacks standing to assert a claim to the money. ECF 11
("Motion"). Rule G(8)(c)(i)(B) provides: "At any
time before trial, the government may move to strike a claim
or answer because the claimant lacks standing." Ms,
Newman opposes the Motion. ECF 12 ("Opposition").
The United States has replied. ECF 13 ("Reply").
hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See
Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall deny
claimant in a civil forfeiture action has Article III
standing if she has an ownership, possessory, or security
interest in the specific property that is the subject of the
forfeiture action. See United States v. $8, 440, 190.00
in U.S. Currency, 719 F.3d 49, 57 (1st Cir. 2013);
United States v. Miscellaneous Jewelry, 667 F.Supp.
232, 235-36 (D. Md. 1987), aff'd sub nom. United
States v. Walker, 889 F.2d 1317 (4th Cir. 1989).
parties agree that the Decedent was domiciled in California
at the time of his death and therefore California law applies
to the standing inquiry. ECF 11 at 5; ECF 12 at 3.
See United States v. Real Prop. Located at 5208
Los Franciscos Way, Los Angeles, Cal, 385 F.3d 1187,
1191 (9th Cir. 2004) ("Ownership interest is determined
under the law of the state in which the interest arose-here,
United States acknowledges (ECF 11 at 3), where the claimant
asserts factual allegations supporting a possessory interest,
they must be taken as true at the motion to dismiss stage.
See United States v. $133, 420.00 in U.S. Currency,
672 F.3d 629, 638 (9th Cir. 2012). Likewise, in the early
stages of the claim proceedings, a claimant need only show a
colorable claim of an ownership or possessory interest in the
defendant property to establish standing. See United
States v. $8, 440, 190.00 in U.S. Currency, 719 F.3d at
Motion, the government asserts that Ms. Newman lacks standing
on two grounds: First, that she does not have legal title to
the property because she is an heir of the Decedent rather
than the personal representative of his estate, and because
the administration of the estate may not yet be complete. ECF
11 at 5-7. Second, the government argues that even if Ms.
Newman did have legal title to the Decedent's estate,
there is no evidence that the Decedent himself had a legal
interest in the package and its contents, and Ms. Newman
cannot assert the Decedent's claim if he had none.
Id. at 8.
support of its first argument, the United States cites Cal.
Prob. Code § 8400(a)-(b), which provides that "[a]
person has no power to administer the estate until the person
is appointed personal representative and the appointment
becomes effective." And, under Cal. Prob. Code §
9650, only "[t]he personal representative has the right
to . . . all the property of the decedent to be administered
in the decedent's estate, " until a court orders the
discharge of the, personal representative upon the final
distribution. Cal. Prob. Code § 12250.
the United States asserts (ECF 11 at 5-6) (emphasis in
original): "A decedent's heirs, therefore, are
presumptively entitled to a decedent's property,
subject to the administration of the decedent's
estate by the personal representative (see Cal. Prob.
Code § 7000), who is entrusted with the duty to protect
the interests of all of the beneficiaries or creditors who
have an interest in the decedent's estate. In other
words, the ...