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Jordan v. United States

June 11, 2009

IN RE RETURN OF SEIZED PROPERTY, TERRI JORDAN, ET AL., MOVANTS/PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENT/DEFENDANT.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ASSORTED FIREARMS, MOTORCYCLES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
TERRI JORDAN, ET AL., CLAIMANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Florence-marie Cooper, Judge United States District Court

ORDER GRANTING THE GOVERNMENT'S MOTION TO DISMISS ACTION AND ORDER DENYING CLAIMANTS' REQUEST FOR CONSOLIDATION, CROSS-MOTION TO DISMISS CIVIL FORFEITURE COMPLAINT, AND CROSS-MOTION FOR RETURN OF DEFENDANT MOTORCYCLES

This matter is before the Court on the following motions: the Government's Motion to Dismiss Action (docket no. 11) in Case No. 2:09-cv-459-FMC, filed May 8, 2009; Claimants' Request for Consolidation, Cross-Motion to Dismiss Civil Forfeiture Complaint, and Cross-Motion for Return of Defendant Motorcycles (docket no. 13) in Case No. 2:09-cv-459-FMC, (docket no. 45) in Case No. 2:09-cv-1887-FMC-JCx, filed May 25, 2009. The Court has read and considered the moving, opposition, and reply documents submitted in connection with these motions. The Court deems the matter appropriate for decision without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; Local Rule 7-15. Accordingly, the hearing set for June 22, 2009, is removed from the Court's calendar. For the reasons and in the manner set forth below, the Court hereby GRANTS the Government's Motion to Dismiss Action, and DENIES Claimants' Request for Consolidation, Cross-Motion to Dismiss Civil Forfeiture Complaint, and Cross-Motion for Return of Defendant Motorcycles.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On October 9, 2008, a multi-count and multi-defendant indictment was returned in the criminal case, United States v. Ruben Cavazos, et al., Case No. 2:08-cr-1201. On or about October 21, 2008, law enforcement agents arrested the defendants named in the indictment and executed seizure warrants of assorted firearms, motorcycles and other personal property ("Defendant Property"). Some of the motorcycles seized belonged to individuals named in the criminal indictment, while approximately fifty motorcycles seized are owned by individuals not named in the indictment ("Claimants"). By January 21, 2009, Claimants had not yet received any notice from the Government regarding their seized property, and filed a Motion for Return of Seized Property under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g) in Case No. 2:09-cv-459-FMC, In Re Return of Seized Property. Claimants' Rule 41(g) motion alleged a violation of the notice requirement provided by 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(1)(A)(i), and sought return of Claimants' motorcycles pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(1)(F).

The Government opposed Claimants' Rule 41(g) motion in part for failing to properly serve the Government. On March 4, 2009, the Court directed Claimants to cure the defect in service of process, and granted the Government sixty (60) days to respond, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a)(2). On March 19, 2009, the Government filed a verified Complaint for civil judicial forfeiture, Case No. 2:09-cv-1887-FMCJCx, seeking judicial forfeiture of the assorted firearms, motorcycles, and other personal property seized in October 2008. On May 5, 2009, the Government filed a First Amended Complaint in the civil forfeiture action. On May 25, 2009, each Claimant filed a verified Claim in the civil forfeiture action for the return of the Defendant Property seized by the Government and owned by the Claimant.

Meanwhile, on May 8, 2009, the Government filed a Motion to Dismiss the Rule 41(g) action in Case No. 2:09-cv-459-FMC. On May 25, 2009, Claimants filed a three-part motion and opposition: (1) Request for Consolidation of Case No. 2:09-cv-459-FMC with Case No. 2:09-cv-1887-FMC-JCx; (2) Motion and Cross-Motion to Dismiss Complaint in Case No. 2:09-cv-1887-FMC-JCx; and (3) Opposition to the Government's Motion to Dismiss, and Cross-Motion for Return of Defendant Motorcycles Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(1)(F). These motions are currently pending before the Court.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a defendant to seek dismissal of a complaint that "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). All material factual allegations in the complaint are assumed to be true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Nursing Home Pension Fund, Local 144 v. Oracle Corp., 380 F.3d 1226, 1229 (9th Cir. 2004) ("The general rule for 12(b)(6) motions is that allegations of material fact made in the complaint should be taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.") (citing Burgert v. Lokelani Bernice Pauahi Bishop Trust, 200 F.3d 661, 663 (9th Cir. 2000)). However, the Court "is not required to accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations if those conclusions cannot be reasonably drawn from the facts alleged." Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 F.3d 752, 755 (9th Cir. 1994)(internal citations omitted); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, U. S. , 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-1965, 167 L.Ed. 2d 929 (2007) ("While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.")

In ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, a court generally cannot consider material outside of the complaint (e.g., facts presented in briefs, affidavits, or discovery materials). See, e.g., Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1076 (9th Cir. 2005). A court may, however, consider exhibits submitted with the complaint, as well as documents that are referred to in the complaint whose authenticity no party questions. Id.; Shwarz v. United States, 234 F.3d 428, 435 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing Branch v. Tunnell, 14 F.3d 449, 453-54 (9th Cir. 1994)).

If the Court dismisses the complaint, it must decide whether to grant leave to amend. Denial of leave to amend is "improper unless it is clear that the complaint could not be saved by any amendment." Livid Holdings Ltd. v. Salomon Smith Barney, Inc., 416 F.3d 940, 946 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

The Court will address the parties' motions in the following order: (1) Claimants' Cross-Motion to Dismiss Civil Forfeiture Action; (2) Claimants' Cross-Motion for Return of Defendant Motorcycles; (3) Government's Motion to Dismiss Case No. 2:09-cv-459-FMC; and (4) Claimants' Request for Consolidation.

A. Claimants' Cross-Motion to Dismiss Civil Forfeiture Action

Claimants move to dismiss the Government's First Amended Verified Complaint for Forfeiture for failing to sufficiently allege probable cause. A civil forfeiture complaint must "state sufficiently detailed facts to support a reasonable belief that the government will be able to meet its burden of proof at trial." Supp. Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions ("Supp. Rules") G(2)(f). Furthermore, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 ("CAFRA") requires the Government to demonstrate that it had probable cause to institute a civil forfeiture action. United States v. $493,850.00 in U.S. Currency, 518 F.3d 1159, 1166 (9th Cir. 2008). Probable cause is satisfied when there are "reasonable grounds to believe that the property was related to an illegal drug transaction, supported by less than prima facie proof but more than mere suspicion. . . . Probable cause to believe that the property is involved in some illegal activity is not enough -- the government must have probable cause to believe that the property is involved in the activity subject to the specific forfeiture statute it invokes. . . . Probable cause may only be based upon information gathered before the complaint was filed." ...


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