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Wada v. United States Secret Service

November 13, 2007

HADIZA I. WADA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pro Se Plaintiff, Hadiza I. Wada, brings this cause of action to challenge a number of events related to the seizure of a bank account Plaintiff opened for her business, Latest Technology International ("LTI"). Plaintiff names as Defendants the United States Secret Service ("Secret Service"), which seized the LTI bank account, Bank of America ("BOA"), the bank at which the LTI account was held, and Bill Leonard, an individual identified as the manager of the BOA branch where the LTI account was held. BOA has moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a cause of action, and the Secret Service has moved to dismiss, or in the alternative, to transfer the instant action to the Eastern District of Michigan, where a civil forfeiture proceeding with respect to the LTI account is currently ongoing. Upon a searching review of Plaintiff's Complaint, the filings in connection with the two pending motions to dismiss, the exhibits attached thereto, and the relevant statutes and caselaw, the Court shall grant-in-part and deny-in-part the Secret Service's Motion to Dismiss, and shall grant the Secret Service's Motion to Transfer. Specifically, insofar as Plaintiff seeks to challenge the forfeiture of assets seized from the LTI account, this Court lacks jurisdiction over that challenge, which Plaintiff is required to pursue via the forfeiture action pending in the Eastern District of Michigan. However, insofar as Plaintiff asserts any claims against the Secret Service beyond a challenge to the forfeiture, the Court shall transfer this action to the Eastern District of Michigan pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The Court shall further deny BOA's Motion to Dismiss and, in light of the connections between Plaintiff's allegations against the Secret Service and BOA, shall transfer this action in its entirety to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Wada filed the Complaint in this action pro se on March 6, 2007. Plaintiff's Complaint contains an account of the events--from Plaintiff's point of view--relating to the seizure of the LTI account, and includes a number of requests for the Court and claims for relief, but does not affirmatively state either the precise causes of action she purports to bring or the legal foundation for any causes of action. Plaintiff's version of the relevant events are further clarified by the Secret Service's motion to dismiss.

Plaintiff Wada is a Maryland resident and a self-described "law abiding citizen." Compl., Jurisd. and Venue, ¶ 2. In June 2005, Plaintiff registered a business, Latest Technology International, with the State of Maryland. Compl. ¶ 4. Plaintiff describes LTI as "a web based business that will primarily work with public institutions and private businesses in Africa to computerize or upgrade their systems." Id. ¶ 6. On May 25, 2006, Plaintiff opened a business checking account for LTI at the Bank of America branch located at 6911 Laurel Bowie Road, Bowie, MD 20715 (hereinafter the "Bowie branch"). Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiff had previously opened two personal accounts at the Bowie branch. Id. ¶ 8.

Plaintiff's Complaint includes a number of allegations concerning actions by BOA and its employees during the fall of 2006. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that during the week of October 16-20, 2006, at the Bowie branch, Mr. Leonard "offered to help Plaintiff during which he gave her a routing number that Plaintiff later found . . . was not the routing number she had used earlier, nor the number pre-printed on her business checks. Another bank employee later . . . reconfirmed that the routing number Plaintiff had been using earlier is the correct number." Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiff asserts that she was expecting a payment of $149,500 for laptops ordered from LTI by a Nigerian company, and that although the Nigerian company sent the money and it "visually appeared as having posted in the LTI account, the amount was later declared seized and had therefore never reached the Plaintiff." Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff also alleges that on November 1, 2006, a bank employee contacted Plaintiff and informed her "that the bank had mistakenly deposited $40,000 in her business account and needed her verbal permission to pull the money out. Plaintiff told [the bank employee] that the money was accounted for." Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff asserts that the $40,000 was supposed to be posted in the LTI account and that, although the depositor initially requested that the deposit be cancelled, it withdrew that request on October 31, 2006. Id. ¶¶ 13-14.

Plaintiff next alleges that she received a letter from BOA on November 10, 2006 advising her that BOA intended to restrict the LTI account three days later, and close it seven days thereafter. Id. ¶ 10. A copy of BOA's letter, dated November 6, 2006, is attached to Plaintiff's Opposition to the Secret Service's motion to dismiss. See Pl.'s Opp'n to Sec. Serv. Mot., Ex. 15.*fn1 According to Plaintiff, on November 15, 2006, she was informed by staff at the Bowie branch that the LTI account was frozen. Compl. ¶ 17. Plaintiff alleges that "[a]fter one complete week of [] exhaustive attempts to reach a long distance number provided by the bank for information about her account . . .[she] was finally informed by [BOA] that the account has been closed and she would receive a check in the mail for the balance of the account." Id. ¶ 18. However, Plaintiff asserts that she never received such a check and, on further investigation, found out that it had never been mailed. Id. ¶¶ 19-20.

According to Plaintiff, she "was finally informed by letter dated 1st December, 2006 that the bank has turned over the account to the Secret Service." Id. ¶ 21. Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that, as of March 6, 2007, neither BOA nor the Secret Service had informed her of why the LTI account was closed and seized by the Secret Service. Id. ¶ 22. The Secret Service's Motion to Dismiss fills in some relevant details. Specifically, on December 1, 2006, a judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan issued a warrant to seize all funds on deposit in the LTI account. Sec. Serv. Mot. to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, to Transfer (hereinafter "Sec. Serv. Mot.") ¶ 1. The warrant issued on probable cause that the funds in the LTI account were subject to civil forfeiture to the United States government because of their relationship to a wire-fraud crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343. Id.; see also Pl.'s Opp'n to Sec. Serv. MTD, Ex. 2 (1/25/07 Letter from Secret Service to Wada) at 1; Ex. 3 (12/1/06 Seizure Warrant, E.D. Mich.). The total seized from the LTI account was $354,144.44. Sec. Serv. Mot. ¶ 1; Pl.'s Opp'n to Sec. Serv. Mot., Ex. 2 at 1.

Following the seizure, the Secret Service initiated procedures for forfeiting the funds in the LTI account to the United States government via the administrative process provided for in 18 U.S.C. §§ 981(d) and 983. Sec. Serv. Mot. ¶ 3a;*fn2 Pl.'s Opp'n to Sec. Serv. Mot., Ex. 2; see also 18 U.S.C. §§ 981(a)(1)(C), (d) and 983, 19 U.S.C. § 1602, et seq. The Secret Service gave Plaintiff notice of its intent to forfeit the $354,144.44 administratively via letter dated January 25, 2007, Pl.'s Opp'n to Sec. Serv. Mot, Ex. 2, and Plaintiff timely filed a claim of ownership to $149,470.00 of the seized funds. Sec. Serv. Mot. ¶ 3b; Compl., Ex. "Seized Asset Claim Form."*fn3

Plaintiff's assertion of her claim foreclosed the possibility of administrative forfeiture of the $354,144.44 and thereafter the funds could only be forfeited through a judicial action initiated by the United States government in federal court within 90 days of Plaintiff's assertion of her claim. Sec. Serv. Mot. ¶ 3b; 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(3).

In addition to asserting her claim in the ongoing forfeiture action, on March 6, 2007, Plaintiff filed the instant action, asserting that neither the Secret Service nor BOA had informed Plaintiff why the LTI was closed and subsequently seized by the Secret Service. Compl. ¶ 22. Plaintiff's Complaint further alleges that the Secret Service harassed Plaintiff by suggesting that she was required to appear for an interview that was, in fact, voluntary. Id. ¶ 26. Plaintiff also includes a number of allegations regarding her contacts with a man identified as Secret Service Agent Spivey, which suggest Plaintiff's skepticism as to the legitimacy of Agent Spivey's actions. Id. ¶¶ 27-33.*fn4 Plaintiff's Complaint asks the Court to "[a]nalyze any evidence claimed against the [LTI] account and make an immediate decision to allow the release of all funds not affected," "[a]llow a full investigation of all Defendants so mentioned in relation to their role, official and unofficial, in relation to this complaint," and "compel the Secret Service to respect and abide by all laws relating to the issue at hand; including respecting the individual rights of Plaintiff, specifying why the money was held, and allowing Plaintiff to address the specific issue if any in order to get the funds from [the LTI] account released." Compl., "Matters to be resolved". Plaintiff's Complaint also requests the release of all funds from the LTI account, and in particular the $149,500 that Plaintiff expected as payment for laptops, as well as damages for "Calculable financial loss," "Potential financial loss for the duration of the confiscation," "Destruction of business reputation," "Financial confinement and hardships created by the actions of the Defendants," and "Harassment and intimidation." Compl., Relief Sought. Plaintiff further seeks attorneys fees, costs, and expenses, and a "permanent injunction against continuous harassments by Agencies of the federal government."Id.

On May 11, 2007, BOA moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff filed her Opposition to BOA's Motion to Dismiss on June 15, 2007, and BOA filed its Reply on July 3, 2007. On May 25, 2007, the United States commenced a civil action in rem in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan seeking forfeiture of the funds in the LTI account, which had been seized on December 1, 2006. Sec. Serv. Mot. ¶ 7; Ex. 1 (Compl. for Forfeiture).*fn5 The forfeiture Complaint alleges that there is evidence that the LTI account "constitutes proceeds/property of and/or funds and property that are traceable to and/or are involved in violation(s) of 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (Wire Fraud) and are therefore forfeitable under 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(C)." Sec. Serv. Mot. Ex. 1 ¶ 8. The Complaint further alleges that three individuals, including one in the Eastern District of Michigan, were instructed to wire a total of $223,275 into the LTI accountin connection with a wire fraud. Id. ¶¶ 8(a)-(j). On July 2, 2007, Plaintiff filed a Claim for the assets seized from the LTI account in the civil forfeiture action. See Sec. Serv. Reply, Ex. "Claim for Assets Seized."

On June 19, 2007, the Secret Service moved to dismiss, or in the alternative to transfer the instant action to the Eastern District of Michigan. The Secret Service asserts that "[s]ince the time plaintiff filed her action in this Court, it could neither properly be brought nor maintained in this jurisdiction." Sec. Serv. Mot. ¶ 8.Plaintiff filed an Opposition to the Secret Service's Motion on July 13, 2007, and the Secret Service filed its Reply on August 2, 2007. On September 10, 2007, Plaintiff filed a document entitled "Motion in Support of Request to Rule in Plaintiff's Favor," which reiterates arguments raised in her two Oppositions and also suggests that she seeks discovery from BOA. BOA responded to Plaintiff's Motion on September 20, 2007 by moving to stay discovery in this action, and the Secret Service responded to Plaintiff's Motion on October 3, 2007. Plaintiff has not filed a Reply in support of her Motion.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)

The Secret Service asserts that this Court lacks jurisdiction over the instant action. A court must dismiss a case when it lacks subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). A court may appropriately dispose of a case under 12(b)(1), and may "consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Coalition for Underground Expansion v. Mineta, 333 F.3d 193, 198 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). See also Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v. Food & Drug Admin., 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005) ("[T]he district court may consider materials outside the pleadings in deciding whether to grant a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction."); Artis v. Greenspan, 223 F. Supp. 2d 149, 152 n.1 (D.D.C. 2002) ("A court may consider material outside of the pleadings in ruling on a motion to dismiss for lack of venue, personal jurisdiction or subject matter jurisdiction."); Vanover v. Hantman, 77 F. Supp. 2d 91, 98 (D.D.C. 1999), aff'd, 38 F. App'x 4 (D.C. Cir. 2002) ("[W]here a ...


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