Court Below: 223 F. 3d 422
While petitioner was in prison on federal drug charges, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began an administrative process to forfeit cash that officers seized when they executed a search warrant for the residence where petitioner was arrested. The statute in effect at the time required the agency, inter alia, to send written notice of the seizure and applicable forfeiture procedures to each party who appeared to have an interest in the property. 19 U. S. C. §1607(a). The FBI sent such notice by certified mail addressed to petitioner care of the federal correctional institution (FCI) where he was incarcerated; to the address of the residence where he was arrested; and to an address in the town where his mother lived. It received no response in the time allotted and turned over the cash to the United States Marshals Service. Subsequently, petitioner moved in the District Court under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(e) for return of all the property and funds seized in his criminal case. The court denied the motion. The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded, holding that the motion should have been construed as a civil complaint seeking equitable relief for a due process challenge to the adequacy of the notice. On remand, the District Court presided over a telephone deposition of an FCI officer who stated that he signed the certified mail receipt for the FBI's notice to petitioner and testified about the FCI's procedures for accepting, logging, and delivering certified mail addressed to inmates. The court granted the Government summary judgment, ruling that its sending of notice by certified mail to petitioner's place of incarceration satisfied his due process rights. The Sixth Circuit affirmed.
Held: The FBI's notice of the cash forfeiture satisfied due process. The Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause entitles individuals whose property interests are at stake to "notice and an opportunity to be heard." United States v. James Daniel Good Real Property, 510 U. S. 43, 48. The straightforward reasonableness under the circumstances test of Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U. S. 306, 313, not the balancing test approach of Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U. S. 319, 335, supplies the appropriate analytical framework for the due process analysis. This Court has never viewed Mathews as announcing an all-embracing test for deciding due process claims, but has regularly turned to Mullane when confronted with questions regarding the adequacy of the method used to give notice. In Mullane, notice by publication was constitutionally defective as to known persons whose whereabouts were also known, because it was not "reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections." 339 U. S., at 314, 319. The FBI's notice, sent by certified mail to a prison with procedures for delivering mail to the inmate, was so calculated. Contrary to petitioner's argument, Mennonite Bd. of Missions v. Adams, 462 U. S. 791, 796-797, says that a State must attempt to provide actual notice, not that it must provide actual notice. And none of this Court's cases cited by either party have required actual notice in proceedings such as this. Instead, the Government has been allowed to defend the "reasonableness and hence the constitutional validity of any chosen method ... on the ground that it is in itself reasonably certain to inform those affected." Mullane, supra, at 315. The Due Process Clause does not require heroic efforts by the Government to assure the notice's delivery, nor does it require the Government to substitute petitioner's proposed procedures that would have required verification of receipt for those in place at the FCI while he was there. Even if the current procedures improve delivery to some degree, this Court has never held that improvements in the reliability of new procedures necessarily demonstrate the infirmity of those that were replaced. Pp. 5-12.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Rehnquist.
On Writ Of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Sixth Circuit
This case concerns the adequacy of the means employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to provide notice to a federal prisoner of his right to contest the administrative forfeiture of property seized during the execution of a search warrant for the residence where he was arrested.
In April 1986, officers of the FBI arrested petitioner Larry Dean Dusenbery at a house trailer in Atwater, Ohio. Later that day, they obtained and executed a search warrant, seizing drugs, drug paraphernalia, several firearms, a ballistic knife, an automobile registered in the name of petitioner's stepmother, and various other items of personal property. Among these was $21,939 in cash, $394 of which had been found on petitioner's person, $7,500 in the inside pocket of a coat in the dining area and $14,045 in a briefcase found on the floor in the living room.
Two months later, petitioner pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to a charge of possession with intent to distribute 813 grams of cocaine in violation of 21 U. S. C. §841(a)(1) (1988 ed.). He was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment followed by 6 years of special parole. Two years later, the United States, no longer expecting the firearms and knife to be used as evidence in a future prosecution, and unable to determine their rightful owner, sought and obtained an order from the District Court authorizing the FBI to destroy them. The FBI also began the process of administratively forfeiting the cash and the automobile.
At this time, designated agents of the FBI were allowed to dispose of property seized pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act, 84 Stat. 1242, 21 U. S. C. §801 et seq. (1988 ed.), without initiating judicial proceedings if the property's value did not exceed $100,000, and if no person claimed an interest in the property within 20 days after the Government published notice of its intention to forfeit and sell or otherwise dispose of it. §881(a)(6) (subjecting to forfeiture all proceeds traceable to an unlawful exchange for a controlled substance and all moneys, negotiable instruments, and securities traceable to such an exchange); §881(d) (providing that laws relating to summary and judicial forfeiture for violation of the customs laws apply to controlled substance forfeitures); 19 U. S. C. §§1607-1609 (1988 ed.) (setting forth customs law requirements for summary forfeitures).
To effect such a forfeiture, the statute required the agency to send written notice of the seizure together with information on the applicable forfeiture procedures to each party who appeared to have an interest in the property. §1607(a). It also required the publication for at least three successive weeks of a similar notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the judicial district in which the forfeiture proceeding was brought. Ibid.; 21 CFR §1316.75 (1988). The FBI sent letters of its intention to forfeit the cash by certified mail addressed to petitioner care of the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Milan, Michigan, where he was then incarcerated; to the address of the residence where petitioner was arrested; and to an address in Randolph, Ohio, the town where petitioner's mother lived. App. 21-23. It placed the requisite legal notice in three consecutive Sunday editions of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Id., at 24-30. Similar practices were followed with respect to the proposed forfeiture of the car. Brief for Petitioner 3. The FBI received no response to these notices within the time allotted, and so declared the items administratively forfeited. Ibid.; App. 15. An FBI agent turned over the cash to the United States Marshals Service on December 13, 1988. Id., at 16-17.
Nearly five years later, petitioner moved in the District Court pursuant to Rule 41(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure*fn1 seeking return of all the property and funds seized in his criminal case. The United States responded that all of the items of petitioner's property that were not used in his drug business had been returned to him and that other items seized had long since been forfeited to the Government. The District Court denied the motion, reasoning that any challenge to the forfeiture proceedings should have been brought in a civil action, not as a motion ancillary to petitioner's now-closed criminal case. Case No. 5:95-CV-1872 (ND Ohio, Oct. 5, 1995).
The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit vacated the District Court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. Judgt. order reported at 97 F. 3d 1451 (1996), App. 31. The Court of Appeals agreed that petitioner could not pursue his claim through a Rule 41(e) motion since the criminal proceedings against him had been completed. It held that the District Court abused its discretion, however, by not construing the motion as a civil complaint seeking equitable relief for a due process challenge to adequacy of the notice of the administrative forfeiture.
Following remand, the District Court entered an order allowing discovery and subsequently presided over a telephone deposition of James Lawson, an Inmate Systems Officer who began to work in the mailroom at FCI Milan early in 1988 and who had submitted an affidavit in the case. Lawson testified that he signed the certified mail receipt for the FBI's notice to petitioner regarding the cash. App. 49-50. He also testified about the procedures within FCI Milan for accepting, logging, and delivering certified mail addressed to inmates. Id., at 50. Lawson explained that the procedure would have been for him to log the mail in, for petitioner's "Unit Team" to sign for it, and for it then to be given to petitioner. Id., at 51. But he said that a paper trail no longer existed because the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had a policy of holding prison logbooks for only one year after they were closed.*fn2 Id., at 51-52.
Both parties moved for summary judgment. The District Court ruled that the Government's sending of notice by certified mail to petitioner's place of incarceration satisfied his due process rights as to the cash. Case No. 5:95-CV-1872 (ND Ohio, Jan. 19, 1999). The Court of Appeals affirmed. 223 F. 3d 422 (CA6 2000). Citing Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U. S. 306, 314 (1950), it held that the Government's notice of the cash forfeiture comported with due process even in the absence of proof that the mail actually reached petitioner. 223 F. 3d, at 424.
Because Courts of Appeals have reached differing conclusions about what the Due Process Clause requires of the United States when it seeks to provide notice to a federal inmate of its intention to forfeit property in which the inmate appears to have an interest,*fn3 we granted certiorari to consider the adequacy of the FBI's notice to petitioner of its ...