United States District Court, District of Columbia
BERMAN JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the United States of America, filed a verified complaint in
this case seeking forfeiture of $47, 000 in funds associated
with two JP Morgan Chase account numbers, 3379963282 and
786250170 ("defendant funds"). Verified Compl. for
Forfeiture In Rem [Dkt. # 1] ("Compl.")
¶¶ 1-2. Plaintiff claims that defendant
funds are subject to forfeiture pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §
981(a)(1)(C) as property constituting or derived from
proceeds of wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343,
and subject to forfeiture pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §
981(a)(1)(A) as property involved in money laundering in
violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956 or 1957.
Id.¶¶ 3-4, 28-37.
before the Court is plaintiffs motion for default judgment
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2).
See Pl.'s Mot. for Entry of Default J. and Order
of Forfeiture [Dkt. # 9] ("Pl.'s Mot") at 1;
Mem. of Law. in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 9-1]
("Pl.'s Mem"). Upon consideration of the record
in this case, plaintiffs unopposed motion will be granted,
and the United States will be entitled to forfeiture of the
instant case involves an "email spoofing" scheme,
which induced two home-buyers (the "victims") to
wire money to two bank accounts that were purportedly owned
by Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC ("Coldwell").
Compl. ¶ 9. The victims are married and reside in
Virginia. Id. ¶ 10. In the process of
purchasing a home, they corresponded with a Coldwell realtor
using the email domain name "@cbmove.com."
Id. They also legitimately wired $16, 000 to
Coldwell as part of the real estate purchase. Id.
November 27, 2015, the victims received a spoofed email from
the email domain name "@cbrnove.com, " which had
replaced the "m" in the domain name with an
"r" and an "n." Compl. ¶¶
13-14. When placed next to each other, these letters appear
to be an "m." Id. ¶ 14. This email
instructed the victims to wire $10, 000 to a bank account in
Elkhart, Indiana. Id. ¶ 13. Believing that this
email was from the Coldwell realtor, the victims complied.
Id. ¶ 15. Subsequently, on December 1, 2015,
the victims received a second email from the same spoofed
email domain name ("@cbrnove.com"), instructing the
victims to wire an additional $55, 000 to a bank account in
McKinney, Texas. Id. ¶¶ 9, 16. The victims
again complied with the request and sent $55, 000 to an
account that the government has since determined to be in the
name of "Money Mover 2." M ¶¶ 16-17.
December 2, 2015, Money Mover 2 requested a cashier's
check in the amount of $47, 000 to be made payable to another
known potential claimant, "Money Mover 1." Compl.
¶ 20. Money Movers 1 and 2 deposited the money across
two joint J.P. Morgan Chase accounts numbered 786250170 and
3379963282. Id. ¶¶21-22. As of December
17, 2015, there was $2, 000 in account number 786250170, and
$45, 000 in account number 3379963282, totaling $47, 000.
Id. ¶¶ 23-25. The government seized these
funds on December 17, 2015 pursuant to a judicially
authorized seizure warrant. Id. ¶ 25; Warrant
for Arrest In Rem [Dkt. #3], On October 27, 2017,
plaintiff commenced this forfeiture in rem action by
filing a verified complaint seeking the forfeiture of
defendant funds. See generally Compl. Beginning on
November 29, 2017, plaintiff published notice of this action
on the official government forfeiture website,
http://www.forfeiture.gov, for thirty consecutive
days pursuant to Supplemental Rule for Admiralty or Maritime
Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions G(4)(a). Aff in Supp. of
Default [Dkt. # 7] ("Aff") ¶ 6; see
also Fed. R. Civ. P., Supp. R. for Admiralty or Mar.
Claims & Asset Forfeiture Actions ("Supplemental
Rules") G(4); Serv. by Publication [Dkt. #
Plaintiff also provided direct notice to Money Movers 1 and
2, the only known potential claimants of defendant funds, via
Federal Express on approximately November 17, 2017 pursuant
to Supplemental Rule G(4)(b). Aff. ¶ 5. No party has
come forward to claim an interest in defendant funds, and the
time for filing a claim has expired. Id.
¶¶ 2, 7.
February 1, 2018, the Clerk of Court entered default against
defendant pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a).
Clerk's Entry of Default [Dkt. # 8]. Plaintiff has
requested that the Court enter a default judgment. See
generally Pl.'s Mot.; Pl.'s Mem.
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a), "[w]hen a
party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is
sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that
failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must
enter the party's default." Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Once
the Clerk of Court enters a default, a party may move for
default judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
55(b). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b). Although there is
a general "federal policy favoring trial over default
judgment, " Whelan v. Abell, 48 F.3d 1247, 1258
(D.C. Cir. 1995), "when the adversary process has been
halted because of an essentially unresponsive party ..., the
diligent party must be protected" by awarding a default
judgment. Gilmore v. Palestinian Interim Self-Gov't
Auth., 843 F.3d 958, 965 (D.C. Cir. 2016), quoting
H.F. Livermore Corp. v. Aktiengesellschaft Gebruder
Loepfe, 432 F.2d 689, 691 (D.C. Cir. 1970) (per curium)
(omission in original).
court has discretion to determine whether a default judgment
is appropriate. Int'l Painters & Allied Trades
Indus. Pension Fund v. R.W. Amrine Drywall Co., 239
F.Supp.2d 26, 30 (D.D.C. 2002), citing Keegel v. Key West
& Caribbean Trading Co., 627 F.2d 372, 375 n.5 (D.C.
Cir. 1980). Upon entry of default by the Clerk of Court, a
defaulting defendant is considered to "admit every
well-pleaded allegation in the complaint." Id.,
citing Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hughes, 449
F.2d 51, 63 (2d Cir. 1971), rev'd on other
grounds, 409 U.S. 363 (1973). "Although the default
establishes a defendant's liability, the court is
required to make an independent determination of the sum to
be awarded unless the amount of damages is certain."
Id., citing Adkins v. Teseo, 180 F.Supp.2d
15, 17 (D.D.C. 2001). Accordingly, when moving for a default
judgment, a plaintiff must prove its entitlement to the
amount of monetary damages requested. Id., citing
Oberstar v. FDIC, 987 F.2d 494, 505 n.9 (8th Cir.
1993). "In ruling on such a motion, the court may rely
on detailed affidavits or documentary evidence to determine
the appropriate sum for the default judgment."
Id., citing United Artists Corp. v.
Freeman, 605 F.2d 854, 857 (5th Cir. 1979).
plaintiff has shown that it is entitled to an entry of
default judgment against defendant funds and an order of
forfeiture with respect to these funds. Plaintiffs verified
complaint establishes the facts necessary to support a civil
forfeiture pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(A) and (C)
as funds that were derived from money laundering and wire
fraud respectively. See generally Compl.
Furthermore, plaintiff has demonstrated that it has satisfied
the procedural notice requirements set forth in the
Supplemental Rules. See Pl.'s Mem. at 4-5.
has complied with Supplemental Rule G(4)(a)'s notice by
publication requirements by posting notice on
http://www.forfeiture.gov, an official government
forfeiture website, for thirty consecutive days. Aff ¶
6; see Supplemental Rule
G(4)(a)(iv)(C). And plaintiff has further complied with
Supplemental Rule G(4)(b)'s direct notice requirements by
sending notice to the only known ...