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United States of America v. Approximately $3

January 14, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
APPROXIMATELY $3,199.20 IN U.S. CURRENCY; APPROXIMATELY $230.61 IN U.S. CURRENCY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING MOTION TO SET ASIDE ADMINISTRATIVE FORFEITURE OF SEIZED JEWELRY (Document 34)

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On October 31, 2007, the United States of America ("Government") filed a Verified Complaint for Forfeiture In Rem against Defendants approximately $3,199.20 in United States currency and approximately $230.61 in United States currency. More particularly, the monies had been seized from Bank of America accounts maintained in Bakersfield, California, and the Government asserted those funds constituted money furnished or intended to be furnished in exchange for a controlled substance, thereby subjecting it to forfeiture. (Doc. 1.)

Following service and publication, claims were filed on January 30, 2008, by Amen Ahmed Ali and Zafran Ali. (Docs. 26 & 27.)

On April 22, 2008, this matter was stayed via stipulation pending the conclusion of the criminal proceeding then-pending against Claimant Amen Ali. (Doc. 14.)

On December 8, 2011, the parties stipulated that because the criminal proceedings against Amen Ali had concluded, the previously-imposed stay should be lifted. (Doc. 19.)

On February 15, 2012, the parties filed a stipulation permitting Claimants to file an answer to the verified complaint no later than February 24, 2012. That same date, Claimants filed an answer. (Docs. 31 & 32.)

Thereafter, on September 25, 2012, a Motion to Set Aside Administrative Forfeiture of Seized Jewelry was filed by Claimants Amen and Zafran Ali, as well as Yosra Ali, Somayah Ali and Assma Ali (collectively "Movants"). (Docs. 34-36.) On October 12, 2012, the Government filed its opposition to the motion. (Docs. 37-39.) On October 26, 2012, a reply to the opposition was filed. (Doc. 44.)

On December 5, 2012, the undersigned determined the pending motion was suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g), and thus the matter was taken under submission for written decision. (Doc. 45.)

For the reasons that follow, this Court will recommend the motion be denied.

DISCUSSION

Introduction

This case presents an interesting issue. Specifically, the Movants are requesting a review of the administrative forfeiture of property, i.e. jewelry, that is not the subject of the complaint. Morever, Movants have not previously made a claim to the jewelry in the proceeding pending before this Court. Part and parcel to their arguments set forth in the motion, Movants Yosra, Somayah and Assma Ali request that they be permitted to be parties to this action and all Movants request that this Court permit joinder of the seized jewelry and that it be designated a named defendant.

Movants assert, pursuant to Rule 41(g) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Title 18 of the United States Code section 983, and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, that the administrative forfeiture of the seized jewelry should be set aside because despite repeated requests that the Government provide certain information *fn1 , it never responded to the request, thus depriving Movants of their constitutional rights to due process. Additionally, Movants contend the seizure violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against the imposition of excessive fines.

The Government opposes the motion, contending as follows: (1) that the Movants failed to commence a civil action against the United States because the instant action was initiated by the Government and involves separate assets; (2) that the motion should be rejected pursuant to Title 18 of the United States Code section 983; (3) that the motion should be rejected pursuant to res judicata; (4) that the Movants have failed to demonstrate a due process violation; and (5) that the administrative forfeiture does not amount to an excessive fine in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Summary of the Administrative Proceedings re Jewelry

On October 27, 2006, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sent notices of the seizure of the subject jewelry, via certified mail, to both Mr. Amen Ahmed Ali and Mrs. Zafran Ali at 4617 Panorama Drive in Bakersfield, California. Additionally, on that same date, the notice was also sent to Mr. Amen Ahmed Ali in care of the Fresno County Jail.

Both certified receipts relating to the notices sent to Amen and Zafran Ali at the Bakersfield residence were signed for on October 30, 2006, by an individual with the surname Ali. The certified receipt corresponding to the notice sent to Amen Ali at the Fresno County Jail was signed by a Narciso Quintana, as agent, on November 1, 2006.

No claims having been filed, the jewelry was administratively forfeited to the Government on March 14, 2007. At that time, the value of ...


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