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U.S. v. FUNDS FROM PRUDENTIAL SECURITIES

January 29, 2004.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
FUNDS FROM PRUDENTIAL SECURITIES et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICARDO URBINA, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STRIKE; DENYING THE PLAINTIFF'S REQUEST FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT; AND DENYING THE PLAINTIFF'S REQUEST FOR A DECREE OF FORFEITURE
I. INTRODUCTION
If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible.*fn1
This in rem civil forfeiture*fn2 matter is once again before the court on the motion of the government ("the plaintiff") to strike the claim of Latonya Curtis ("the claimant") and its related requests for a default judgment and a decree of forfeiture. Because the claimant's verified claim satisfies the requirements of Supplemental Rule C(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Page 2 court denies the Plaintiff's motion to strike the claimant's claim and, correspondingly, denies the Plaintiff's pendent requests for a default judgment and a decree of forfeiture.

II. BACKGROUND*fn3

  A. Factual Background

  In February 1999, a joint task force, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"), the Washington, B.C. Metropolitan Police Department, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, initiated an investigation of a large heroin-trafficking organization run principally by the claimant's significant other, Mr. Earl Garner, Sr.*fn4 Compl. at 4, 6. The investigation allegedly revealed that the claimant assisted Mr. Garner in various aspects of his drug-trafficking operation. Id. at 6. Court-authorized telephone monitoring of several members of the drug-trafficking organization allegedly indicated that the claimant, in addition to serving as Mr. Garner's confidant and advisor, stored contraband and/or drug proceeds at her residence in North Bethesda, Maryland. Id. Despite these allegations, and after considering the evidence against the claimant at trial, the jury returned a verdict acquitting the claimant.*fn5 Page 3

  B. Procedural Background

  Although this case is still in its infancy, it has managed to assemble a rather lengthy procedural history. On December 21, 2000, the plaintiff filed a verified complaint for civil forfeiture in rem against the seized funds totaling $41,091.86.*fn6 The plaintiff alleges that these funds constitute proceeds traceable to violations of Title II of the Controlled Substances Act, as amended, 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq., and the anti-money laundering provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 1956. Id. at 2.

  On January 25, 2001, the claimant responded to the Plaintiff's verified complaint by filing a claim to the seized funds. According to the plaintiff, however, the claimant's claim failed to comply with the governing requirements of Supplemental Rule C(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Pl.'s Mot. to Treat as Conceded at 3. On March 5, 2001, the plaintiff sent a letter to the claimant and the attorney representing her in the related criminal matter, stating that the claimant's verified claim was defective and that the February 14, 2001 deadline for filing an answer had passed. Id. In that same letter, the plaintiff proposed to extend the claimant's filing deadline to March 19, 2001. Id.

  Thereafter, on March 12, 2001, the claimant's attorney responded to the March 5, 2001 letter, alerting the plaintiff to a recent surgical procedure undergone by the claimant and requesting that the claimant have through April 15, 2001 to file her answer.[fn6a] Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. V. Page 4 Oddly enough, in a March 16, 2001 facsimile to the plaintiff, that same attorney stated that he did not represent the claimant in the civil forfeiture matter at bar. Id. at 4 & Ex. VII. 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 court granted the claimant's motion to late-file her answer. Order dated May 1, 2001. That same day, the claimant filed both an amended verified claim, which asserted that she owned the defendant funds, and an answer, reasserting that she was an innocent owner of the defendant funds. Cl.'s Am. Verified Claim at 1; Cl.'s Answer at 1-4.

  Also on that same day, the plaintiff filed a motion to strike the claimant's claim. The claimant, however, failed to respond. Consequently, on June 25, 2001, the plaintiff filed a motion asking the court to treat the motion to strike as conceded, enter default judgment, and issue a decree of forfeiture. Pl.'s Mot. to Treat as Conceded at 5.

  During the following 12 months, the claimant remained silent and inactive, making no filings. Accordingly, on June 18, 2002, the court granted the Plaintiff's motion to strike, entered default judgment, and issued a decree of forfeiture. United States v. Funds from Prudential Sec., 209 F. Supp.2d 259, 268-69 (D.D.C. 2002) ("Funds I").

  On June 20, 2002, the claimant filed a motion, followed by three additional motions on June 27, 2002, each asking the court to alter or amend its June 18, 2002 ruling.*fn7 Mindful of the Page 5 heightened duty of care owed to pro se litigants, the court vacated its prior ruling and allowed the claimant to respond to the Plaintiff's motion to strike and related requests for entry of default judgment and issuance of a forfeiture decree. United States v. Funds from Prudential Sec., 245 F. Supp.2d 41 (D.D.C. 2003) ("Funds II").

  On March 10, 2003, the claimant filed her response,*fn8 along with an attached document styled as a verified claim.*fn9 Accordingly, the court must once again address the Plaintiff's motion to strike and its ...


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