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United States v. Funds From Prudential Securities

February 6, 2003

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FUNDS FROM PRUDENTIAL SECURITIES ET AL., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document Nos.: 19, 20, 21, 24

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING THE CLAIMANT'S MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND JUDGMENT AND GRANTING THE CLAIMANT LEAVE TO RESPOND TO THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STRIKE

I. INTRODUCTION

This in rem civil forfeiture matter *fn1 is before the court by way of four post-judgment motions submitted by the pro se claimant. Each motion asks the court to alter or amend the court's prior ruling that granted both the plaintiff's motion to strike the claimant's answer and the plaintiff's motion for default judgment. Specifically, the claimant asserts the right to defend herself because, as a procedural matter, she did not receive notice of certain filings by the plaintiff and, as a substantive matter, she is an innocent owner of the defendant funds. In response, the plaintiff argues that the claimant did indeed receive notice of all filings in this matter and that the claimant's criminal culpability or lack thereof has no bearing on the present civil forfeiture action. In evaluating these arguments, the court is mindful of its heightened duty of care owed to pro se litigants. After consideration of the parties' submissions, the relevant law, and the record of this case, the court vacates its prior ruling and allows the claimant to respond to the plaintiff's motion to strike.

II. BACKGROUND *fn2

On December 21, 2000, the plaintiff filed a verified complaint for forfeiture in rem against the defendant funds, alleging that those funds consisted of proceeds from drug transactions and anti-money laundering activities in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 801 and 18 U.S.C. § 1956, respectively. Compl. at 2, 10-11. On January 25, 2001, the claimant filed a verified claim, asserting only that she owned the defendant funds. Claimant's ("Cl.'s") Verified Claim at 1.

February 14, 2001 marked the deadline for the claimant to file an answer to the plaintiff's complaint. 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(4)(B) (providing that any person asserting an interest in a seized property must file an answer no later than 20 days after that person's filing of a claim to the seized property). By this deadline, however, the claimant had filed only her verified claim. On March 5, 2001, the plaintiff sent a letter to the attorney representing the claimant in the related criminal matter ("criminal attorney"), informing the criminal attorney that the February 14 deadline for filing an answer had passed, but that the plaintiff would not oppose a request for an extension allowing the claimant until March 19, 2001 to file her answer. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. IV. The claimant reports that on March 7, 2001, she underwent surgery with an expected recovery time of three to ten weeks. *fn3 On March 12, 2001, the claimant's criminal attorney sent a letter to the plaintiff to notify the plaintiff of the claimant's surgery and to request an additional extension of time through April 15, 2001 to file the answer. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. V. The record does not indicate whether the plaintiff responded to the criminal attorney's request. On March 16, 2001, the criminal attorney sent a second letter to the plaintiff, this time notifying the plaintiff that he did not represent the claimant in the present action and that the claimant was proceeding pro se. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. VII. The March 19 deadline also passed without the claimant filing an answer.

On April 27, 2001, 12 days after the claimant's requested deadline of April 15 had passed, the claimant filed a motion to late-file her answer, explaining that her surgery and its attendant recovery period caused her filing delay. Cl.'s Mot. to Late-File at 1. On May 1, 2001, the claimant filed an amended verified claim, which merely reasserted that she owned the defendant funds. Cl.'s Am. Verified Claim at 1. On the same day, the claimant filed her answer to the plaintiff's complaint, asserting that she was an innocent owner of the defendant funds and asking the court to dismiss the matter. Cl.'s Answer at 1-4.

On May 1, 2001, the court granted the claimant's motion to late-file her answer. Order dated May 1, 2001. Later that same day, the plaintiff filed both a motion to strike the claimant's claim and an opposition to the claimant's motion to late-file her answer. Upon receipt of and after reviewing the plaintiff's opposition, the court issued an order, dated May 8, 2001, vacating its May 1, 2001 order allowing the claimant more time to file her answer. Order dated May 8, 2001.

Meanwhile, the claimant failed to answer the plaintiff's motion to strike. Accordingly, on June 25, 2001, the plaintiff filed a motion to treat as conceded its motion to strike the claimant's claim, a motion for default judgment, and a motion for decree of forfeiture. Pl.'s Mot. to Treat as Conceded at 5. Throughout the 12 months following the filing of the plaintiff's dispositive motions, the claimant remained entirely silent and inactive, making no filings. On June 18, 2002, the court issued its ruling, granting the plaintiff's motion to strike, entering default judgment and issuing a decree of forfeiture. United States v. Funds from Prudential Sec., 209 F. Supp. 2d 259, 268-69 (D.D.C. 2002).

On June 20, 2002, the claimant filed a motion, followed by three additional motions *fn4 on June 27, 2002, each asking the court to alter or amend its June 18, 2002 ruling. The plaintiff filed an omnibus response to these four motions on July 27, 2002. After obtaining an extension of time, the claimant filed her reply to the plaintiff's omnibus response on September 13, 2002.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Altering or Amending a Judgment ...


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