The opinion of the court was delivered by: URBINA
Granting Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the Answer of Stepney Jones; Denying Defendant's Fourth Request for Enlargement of Time; and Granting Defendant's Motion to Seal the Defendant's Response.
After careful consideration of the submissions and the entire record herein, the court concludes the following: that the Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the Answer shall be granted as claimant has not complied with the strict requirements of Rule C(6) of the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims; that the Defendant's Motion for Enlargement of Time to File a Response to Plaintiff's Motion to Treat as Conceded shall be denied as the court has granted numerous other extensions; and that the Defendant's Motion to Seal the Defendant's Response shall be granted. Finally, the court will not entertain the Defendant's Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment as to the Defendant Property, since no judgment has been entered by the court.
On September 8, 1995, Plaintiff (United States) filed a verified complaint for forfeiture in rem against the above-captioned vehicle. Plaintiff claims that the vehicle is subject to forfeiture pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881 (a) (4) and 18 U.S.C. § 981, since the vehicle was acquired with proceeds from drug trafficking and was involved in the violation of federal money laundering statutes 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956 and 1957. On September 8, 1995, a warrant was issued for the Defendant Property. The putative claimant to this vehicle is Stepney Jones (claimant).
Due to the fact that no answer was filed as of November 17, 1995, an affidavit in support of a default judgment against the Defendant Property was filed by the Plaintiff. The clerk of this court entered a default on November 17, 1995. The court, however, has not entered a default judgment. On December 20, 1995, claimant filed a motion requesting an extension of time to file an answer by January 3, 1996. Again on January 3, 1996, without having an answer ready, claimant requested an extension of time to January 10, 1996 to file an answer. The court granted the motions.
The claimant, however, did not file an answer on January 10, 1996. The claimant finally filed an answer on January 25, 1996, accompanied with a motion to allow the late filing, which was also granted by the court. On March 12, 1996, claimant filed a fourth request for an extension of time in order to file a response to the Motion to treat Plaintiff's Motion to Strike as Conceded. At this juncture, Plaintiff's Motion to Strike still remains unopposed by any memorandum of points and authorities and a proposed order, as required by the Local Rules.
Furthermore, claimant has failed to timely file a verified claim with this court as is required by Rule C(6) of the Supplemental Rules of Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims. Claimant filed a verified claim on January 26, 1996. The filing, however, was almost four months late.
The court has granted the claimant three extensions of time to file an answer. The claimant did not have an answer ready on January 3, 1995, the first deadline established by the court. Nor did the claimant file an answer on January 10, 1996, the second deadline established by the court. Following the court's most recent order, dated January 25, 1996, granting leave to file an answer for a third time, the claimant finally filed an answer on January 25, 1996.
However, the answer fails since the claimant did not first file a verified claim, which is a prerequisite to the filing of an answer in this type of case.
The Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims are specifically made applicable to the federal forfeiture proceedings at issue in this case pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(b) and 18 U.S.C. § 981(d). Rule C(6) of the Supplemental Rules, which governs actions in rem, requires the filing of a verified claim to the res subject to forfeiture prior to the filing of any answer to a forfeiture complaint.
A verified claim in a forfeiture in rem action must be filed by the claimant in order for the claimant to acquire "statutory standing."
Therefore, a claimant wishing to defend all or part of a defendant property in a civil forfeiture case must satisfy Supplemental Rule C(6)'s verified claim requirement.
The Supplemental Admiralty and Maritime Claims Rules C(3) and (6), 28 U.S.C.A., provide procedural and timing requirements for filing a verified claim. Rule C(6) allows ten days from execution of process or within such additional time as may be allowed by the court. Rule C(3) of the Supplemental Rules provides for the issuance of an arrest warrant for the subject matter property. The process is considered executed once a warrant is served on the property.
In this case, process was served on September 8, 1995. Thus, the ten day period began to run when the warrant of arrest was served on the Defendant Property. However, if the potential claimant did not have notice of the forfeiture proceedings, the time period would not begin to run until the court acquires jurisdiction over the party.
"It is well established that the entry of an appearance by a party in a case under the Rules of Admiralty Procedures waives any defects in the service and submits the party to the jurisdiction of the court."
It is clear that the claimant in this case came under the jurisdiction of the court when claimant's attorney entered an appearance before this court, well before the warrant of arrest was served on the Defendant Property.
Presently, however, claimant received ample notice. Claimant was, on numerous occasions, given notice about the verified claim requirement. On September 18, 1995, Plaintiff first sought to advise the claimant and his counsel about the verified claim requirement by attempting to serve him, via certified letter, with a copy of the complaint and the Warrant of Arrest In Rem. This certified letter was returned unclaimed. The filing requirements were contained therein. On October 9, 1995, Notice of Seizure was published in The Washington Times newspaper ...