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Martin v. Leonhart

June 15, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Court Judge


This action involves plaintiffs' request for the return of $19,800 in U.S. Currency (the "funds") seized by agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") from Plaintiff Tiana Dupree ("Dupree") in Washington, D.C. during a random drug search of an overnight Amtrak train traveling from Miami, Florida to New York, New York on August 8, 2008. Pending before the Court is defendant's motion to dismiss. Upon consideration of the motion, the response and reply thereto, the applicable law, and for the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS defendant's motion to dismiss.


A. Initial Seizure of the Funds by the DEA

On or about August 1, 2008, Plaintiff Randy Martin ("Martin") - a New York resident - allegedly went to Florida on vacation and to look at a car that he was interested in buying for his girlfriend, Dupree. Compl. ¶ 10. Martin brought approximately $20,000 in U.S. Currency to Florida in order to purchase the car. Compl. ¶ 11. On or about August 8, 2008, after deciding not to buy the car, Martin asked Dupree - who was returning to New York -- "to bring the money . . . back home to his safe because he was going to stay in Florida for a few more days and he wanted the money secured in his safe while he was on vacation." Compl. ¶¶ 15, 17. After boarding an Amtrak train headed for New York, Dupree took the money from Martin and "placed it in her eyeglass case for safekeeping." Compl. ¶ 18.

On or about August 8, 2008, Dupree was awakened by a knock on the door of her sleeper car by DEA agents conducting a random drug search on the train. Compl. ¶ 21. After inspecting Dupree's ticket, the DEA agents searched Dupree's room. Compl. ¶¶ 22, 23. During the course of this search, the DEA Agents "dumped out the contents of Ms. Dupree's purse, opened her eyeglass case, and removed the $19,800 in U.S. currency which was in the case." Compl. ¶ 24. After being confronted about the money, Dupree indicated that it belonged to her boyfriend - Martin. Compl. ¶ 26. One of the DEA agents then called Martin, who confirmed that the money belonged to him. See Compl. ¶¶ 27-32. After ending the phone call with Martin, the DEA Agent purportedly remarked to another DEA agent: "He's Jamaican." Compl. ¶ 33. The DEA Agent then seized the $19,800 from Dupree's eyeglass case, gave Dupree a receipt for the money, apologized for the inconvenience, and told Dupree to call a number on a business card he handed her to get the money back. Compl. ¶ 34. No arrest was made, nor were any drugs found in connection with the search of Dupree. Compl. ¶¶ 7-8. After Martin called the telephone number that the DEA agents had provided, he was informed that he would receive information in the mail regarding the seized funds. Compl. ¶ 37.

B. Plaintiffs' Request for Return of the $19,800

On September 30, 2008, the DEA mailed a Notice of Seizure (the "Notice") to Martin and Dupree, as well as their attorney. See Compl. ¶ 39; see also Def.'s Ex. 1-4, Notices of Seizure. The Notice lists the seized property as "$19,800 U.S. Currency" and the owner as "Tania Dupree." Def.'s Ex. 1. The Notice further states, in relevant part:

The above-described property was seized by the [DEA] for forfeiture pursuant to [21 U.S.C. § 881], because the property was used or acquired as a result of a violation of the Controlled Substances Act . . . . Pursuant to [18 U.S.C. § 983 and 19 U.S.C. §§ 1602-1619], procedures to administratively forfeit this property are underway. You may petition the DEA for return of the property (remission or mitigation), and/or you may contest the seizure and forfeiture of the property in Federal Court.

Def.'s Ex. 1; see also infra Section II (discussing the statutory scheme established by Congress in civil forfeiture actions, and providing an overview of the process for filing (i) a "petition" for the return of property with the DEA and/or (ii) a "claim" for the judicial review of the seizure and forfeiture with the DEA). Plaintiffs received this Notice. Compl. ¶ 40.*fn1

On October 10, 2008, counsel for plaintiffs sent the following letter to the DEA requesting the return of the $19,800 in seized funds (the "October 10, 2008 Letter"):

I am the attorney representing Ms. Tiana Dupree and Randy Martin who on August 8, 2008 had the sum of $19,800 taken from them by DEA agents while lawfully traveling from Florida to New York. The money was seized during an alleged random drug search despite the fact that there were no drugs found on my client, there was no commission of a crime and the Agent could not express any legal basis for the seizure of the funds from my clients. There were no arrests and no other property was seized.

I am submitting my clients' sworn affidavits to petition you to return their property forthwith. In doing so, we do not waive our right to proceed in any other lawful manner to recover the sum in question. In the event you have nay [sic] lawful reason for the seizure and subsequent forfeiture of my clients' money I request that this information be forwarded to my office immediately. However, as I suspect you will agree that the money should be returned to my clients' I would appreciate it if you could forward a check made payable to STEVEN M. FEINBERG, ESQ., as attorney, to my office address. Thank you for your anticipated cooperation.

Def.'s Ex. 10. The letter was accompanied by sworn declarations from Dupree and Martin, captioned "Petition for the ...

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