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Anthony Lewis v. Drug Enforcement Administration

April 15, 2011

ANTHONY LEWIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The plaintiff brings this action against the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") seeking judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), see 5 U.S.C. § 702 (2006), regarding the seizure of two vehicles, along with their contents, and the administrative forfeiture of the vehicles by the DEA.*fn1 This matter is before the Court on the defendant's motion to dismiss and the plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief. For the reasons discussed below, the defendant's motion will be granted and the plaintiff's motion will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 17, 1993, the plaintiff was arrested at his residence in Tampa, Florida, at which time two vehicles and the contents thereof were seized by DEA Special Agents Tom Feeney and Dale Van Dorple, two Tampa Police Department officers, and a Hillsborough County Deputy Sheriff. Complaint ("Compl.") ¶¶ 3-4. The vehicles were described as a 1969 Cadillac DeVille convertible (VIN E9259095) ("DeVille") and a 1987 Chevrolet Blazer S-10 (VIN 1G8CS18R2G8116399) ("Blazer"). See id. ¶¶ 3-5; Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mem.") at 2, Declaration of Terrence J. King ("King Decl.") ¶¶ 4(a), 5(a). The personal property inside the vehicles allegedly included jewelry, clothing, and tools. See Compl., Ex. A (Itemized List).

According to the plaintiff, he was provided neither a warrant authorizing these seizures, nor an inventory list of the vehicles' contents. Compl. ¶¶ 5-6. The plaintiff contends that the "vehicles were never used to facilitate any illegal narcotics activities, nor . . . [were they] derived from proceeds of illegal narcotics dealing." Id., Exhibit ("Ex.") B (Affidavit of Anthony Lewis) ("Pl.'s Aff.") ¶ 5. The plaintiff has "remained incarcerated [by] the federal Government [since] August 17, 1993," and allegedly he never "receive[d] notice of the seizure" of his property. Compl. ¶ 8. "The [p]laintiff was later convicted and sentenced in the [United States] District Court [for the] Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division," id. ¶ 17, and is serving a term of life imprisonment, see United States v. Lewis, No. 8:93-CR-249-RAL-1 (M.D. Fla. filed Sept. 16, 1993).*fn2

A. Administrative Forfeiture Proceedings

1. The DeVille

DEA employees in its Tampa, Florida office "prepared and submitted a forfeiture report," which either "[a]n attorney or paralegal reviewed . . . to determine if the DEA field office provided adequate information to support administrative forfeiture proceedings against the property." Def.'s Mem., King Decl. ¶ 4(a). This process "included a legal review of the evidence that existed to seize the . . . DeVille." Id. Based on this review, "the DEA accepted [the] case for administrative forfeiture." Id.

Pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1607(a) (2006), the DEA sent two written notices of the DeVille's seizure by certified mail, along with domestic return receipts, to the plaintiff at his Tampa, Florida residence. Def.'s Mem., King Decl. ¶ 4(b)-4(c); see id., Exs. 1 and 3 (Notices of Seizure dated October 8, 1993).*fn3 Someone signed each return receipt on October 18, 1993. Id., Exs. 2 and 4 (domestic return receipts for certified mail). In addition, the DEA sent a notice of the seizure to the plaintiff at the Pinellas County Jail in Clearwater, Florida. Id. ¶ 4(d); see id., Ex. 5 (Notice of Seizure dated October 8, 1993). This third notice was returned to the DEA by the United States Post Office, with the envelope "stamped 'RETURNED TO SENDER' and marked 'MOVED. LEFT NO ADDRESS.'" Id. ¶ 4(d); see id., Ex. 6.

The DEA provided notice of "the seizure of the property . . . in USA TODAY, a newspaper of general circulation in the Middle District of Florida and the District of Columbia." Def.'s Mem., King Decl. ¶ 4(e). The notice was "published once each week for three successive weeks: October 20 and 27, and November 3, 1993." Id. ¶ 4(e); see id., Ex. 7 (Legal Notices). Both "[t]he published and mailed notices explained the option of filing a claim and cost bond, or an affidavit of indigency in lieu of the cost bond, with the DEA Forfeiture Counsel in order to contest the forfeiture action in United States District Court." Id. ¶ 4(e). The DEA received neither a claim nor a cost bond by the November 9, 1993 deadline, id., and on November 26, 1993, "the DEA forfeited the . . . DeVille . . . to the United States" pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1609 [(2006)]. Id. ¶ 4(f); see id., Ex. 8 (Declaration of Forfeiture dated November 26, 1993).

2. The Blazer

As was the case with the DeVille, DEA employees in its Tampa office "prepared and submitted a forfeiture report," and upon its review, which "included a legal review of the evidence that existed to seize the . . . Blazer," the case was "accepted . . . for administrative forfeiture." Def.'s Mem., King Decl. ¶ 5(a). On November 1, 1993, the DEA sent by certified mail, along with return receipts, three notices of seizure to the plaintiff -- one to the plaintiff's Tampa, Florida residence, one to the plaintiff at the Pinellas County Jail, and one to the plaintiff's attorney. Id. ¶¶ 5(c)-(f); see id., Exs. 19, 21 and 23 (Notices of Seizure dated November 1, 1993). The DEA also mailed a fourth notice to Henry L. Lewis at the same Tampa, Florida address as the plaintiff's residence. Id. ¶ 5(f); see id., Ex. 25 (Notice of Seizure dated November 1, 1993). With the exception of the notice mailed to the Pinellas County Jail, which the United States Postal Service returned, id., Ex. 22, an individual signed for each of the other three notices, id., Exs. 20, 24, and 26 (domestic return receipts for certified mail).

The DEA "published in USA TODAY, a newspaper of general circulation in the Middle District of Florida and the District of Columbia," a notice of the seizure "once each week for three successive weeks: November 10, 17, and 24, 1993." Def.'s Mem., King Decl. ¶ 5(g) & Ex. 27 (Legal Notices). Once again the DEA did not receive a claim or cost bond by the November 30, 1993 deadline, and "the DEA forfeited the . . . Blazer . . . to the United States" on December 17, 1993. Id. ¶¶ 5(g)-(h) & Ex. 28 (Declaration of Forfeiture dated December 17, 1993).

B. Criminal Action No. 93-249

The plaintiff filed in his criminal case a Petition for Writ of Replevin "in an attempt to obtain judicial review of the . . . DEA's seizure and administrative forfeiture of his vehicles and the contents of his vehicles." Compl. ¶ 16; Def.'s Mem., King Decl., Ex. 9 (Petition for Writ of Replevin, Lewis v. United States, No. 93-249-CR-T-21(B) (M.D. Fla. June 9, 1994)).*fn4

According to the plaintiff, his property was seized and forfeited without probable cause, proper notice and hearing, and otherwise was taken in violation of law. See generally, Def.'s Mem., King Decl., Ex. 9. The presiding judge in the plaintiff's criminal case held a hearing on January 30, 1997, and denied the petition on March 24, 1997.*fn5 Compl. ΒΆ 20. That ...


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