United States District Court, N.D. California.
June 30, 2014
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Plaintiff,
$209, 815 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, Defendant. JULIO FIGUEROA, Claimant.
ORDER GRANTING MOTION OF THE UNITED STATES TO COMPEL ANSWERS FROM JULIO FIGUEROA TO SPECIAL INTERROGATORIES
SAMUEL CONTI, District Judge.
Now before the Court is Plaintiff United States of America's ("Plaintiff") motion to compel answers from Julio Figueroa ("Claimant") to special interrogatories. ECF No. 21 ("Mot."). The motion is fully briefed, ECF Nos. 21, 29 ("Opp'n"), and 36 ("Reply"), and appropriate for resolution without oral argument, Civ. L.R. 7-1(b). The motion is GRANTED, as explained below.
This is a civil forfeiture case arising out of $209, 815 in United States currency ("the currency") seized from Claimant's checked luggage at the San Francisco International Airport ("SFO") on September 27, 2013. ECF No. 1 ("Compl.") ¶ 1. While the precise factual circumstances underlying the interaction between DEA Agents and the Claimant remain an issue of contention among the parties, the Court need not resolve those issues on the present motion. See ECF Nos. 18, 39, 42 (describing Claimant's pending motion to suppress and subsequent briefing).
On February 20, 2014, Plaintiff filed a complaint for civil forfeiture under 21 U.S.C. Section 983 arguing that the currency is subject to forfeiture as "moneys... furnished or intended to be furnished by [a] person in exchange for a controlled substance... [, ] proceeds traceable to such an exchange, [or] money... used or intended to be used to facilitate a violation of [Subchapter I, Chapter 13 of Title 21, United States Code]." 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6). Claimant intervened, filing a verified claim and answer as required under the statute, and asserting "an ownership and possessory interest in, and the right to exercise dominion and control over all the defendant property." See ECF Nos. 11 ("Claim"); 14 ("Answer"). See also 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(4)(A), (B); Supp. R. G(5).
Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff timely served on Claimant ten special interrogatories pursuant to Supplemental Rule G(6) for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims requesting, among other things, information related to Claimant's (1) circumstances of acquiring the currency, (2)records relating to the currency, (3) the source of the currency, (4) facts supporting Claimant's claims of ownership and possessory interests in the currency, and (5) the identity of persons having knowledge of Claimant's interest in the currency. ECF No. 22 ("Kenney Decl.") Ex. A, Nos. 2-10. Claimant objects to these interrogatories, arguing primarily that they seek information beyond the scope of discovery permitted under Supplemental Rule G(6)(a). Opp'n at 2-3. Claimant further argues in his objections to Plaintiff's interrogatories that the requests are (1) "overly broad, burdensome, and oppressive, " and (2) seek information in violation of Claimant's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Kenney Decl. Ex. B. After raising these objections, Claimant's responses do little more than restate Claimant's assertion of ownership and possession of the currency in his verified claim. Id . Now Plaintiff seeks to compel further answers to nine of the special interrogatories, but Claimant still refuses. See Opp'n at 2-3.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorize party-initiated discovery of any evidence that is relevant to any party's claims or defenses. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). However, discovery under Rule 26 is generally barred prior to the initial case management conference. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(d)(1). Nevertheless, in the particular context of forfeiture proceedings, Supplemental Rule G(6) applies, which "supersedes the discovery moratorium' of Rule 26(d), " and permits the government to file "limited interrogatories at any time after a claim is filed to gather information that bears on the claimant's standing." Advisory Committee Note to Subd. 6 of Supp. R. G. While the scope of this rule is limited, the Ninth Circuit has stated that the rule "broadly allows the government to collect information regarding the claimant's relationship to the defendant property, " and "contemplates that the government may seek information beyond the claimant's identity and type of property interest." United States v. $133, 420, 672 F.3d 629, 642 (9th Cir. 2012).
Here, Claimant argues that because the scope of Supplemental Rule G(6) is limited to information bearing on Claimant's standing, and his responses to Plaintiff's special interrogatories and verified claim are sufficient to establish his standing at this stage, any further discovery necessarily exceeds the scope of the Rule. However, the Ninth Circuit has expressly rejected this argument, and found interrogatory responses virtually identical to those offered by counsel in this case insufficient. Id. at 642-43 ("[Claimant's] premise that the only information relevant to standing is the claimant's identity and interest in the defendant property is simply incorrect...."). Just as in $133, 420, Claimant's proffered narrow interpretation of Supplemental Rule G(6) would render Supplemental Rule G(5)(a)(i)(B), which already requires a verified claim to "identify the claimant and state the claimant's interest in the property, " superfluous. Id . (quoting Spencer Enters., Inc. v. United States , 345 F.3d 683, 691 (9th Cir. 2003)) (restating the "cardinal rule of statutory interpretation that no provision should be construed to be entirely redundant."). Furthermore, Claimant's position ignores the fact that "the advisory committee's note to this rule contemplates that the government may seek information beyond the claimant's identity and type of property interest...." Id. at 642 (citing Supp. R. G Advisory Committee's Note (subsection 6)). This interpretation is in accord with the other lower courts that have considered the scope of Supplemental Rule G(6). See, e.g., United States v. $307, 970, 4:12-CV-136, 2013 WL 4095373, at *3 (E.D. N.C. Aug. 13, 2013) ("[P]ermissible interrogatories as to a claimant's relationship to the defendant property may encompass more than just the type of interest asserted in the property.") (citing $133, 420, at 642-43); United States v. $2, 051, 660, 07-cv-1338, 2008 WL 8723566, at *1 (D. Kans. Sept. 29, 2008) ("[T]he addition of Supplemental Rule G(6) phrase [sic] regarding claimant's identity and relationship to the defendant property' must allow more than a mere recitation of the information already required by Supplemental Rule G(5).").
Furthermore, unlike in $133, 420, here the Government has not sought admissions or production of documents, which are outside the scope of the Rule and might qualify as "overly broad, burdensome, and oppressive." 672 F.3d at 643 n.5; Kenney Decl. Ex. B. Instead, the interrogatories in this case mirror those endorsed by the Ninth Circuit in $133, 420, which also sought information relevant to (1) the nature of the Claimant's interest, and (2) the means by which the Claimant's interest was acquired (including, among other things, the dates, times, circumstances of each transaction, persons from which the currency was obtained, reasons why it was obtained, and names and contact information for witnesses to transactions in which it was obtained). Id. at 636. In other words, because Plaintiff's interrogatories are all "limited to the claimant's... relationship to the defendant property, " they are neither outside the scope of the Rule nor impermissibly broad. See Supp. R. G(6)(a).
For similar reasons, Claimant is incorrect that compelling answers to interrogatories requires him to "conclusively prove" his case at this stage. Opp'n at 3. While Claimant is right that the burden of proof remains on Plaintiff to establish a connection between the property and illegal drug trafficking, see 18 U.S.C. § 983(c)(1), the fact that some of Claimant's interrogatory responses may help or hinder the Plaintiff's cause in carrying that burden does not impermissibly shift the burden onto Claimant. This conclusion is further underscored by the Supplemental Rules' grant of permission for special interrogatories at this stage in the proceedings. Supp. R. G(6)(a), (b) (permitting interrogatories at any time after the claim is filed and before discovery closes and requiring answers be served within 21 days).
Finally, Claimant's verified response to Plaintiff's interrogatories raises an additional objection - that Plaintiff's interrogatories seek information "in violation of Claimant's Fourth Amendment rights against an unreasonable search and seizure of his property and his... right... to have any evidence obtained as a result of such illegality suppressed in these proceedings and/or any other proceeding." Kinney Decl. Ex. B at 5; see also, e.g., id. at 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 (raising the same objection). Nevertheless, Claimant's memorandum offers no analysis of this contention. Claimant's argument is, as best as the Court can determine, simply repetitive of his argument, raised in his pending motion to suppress, ECF No. 18, that the evidence obtained from the search of his baggage should be suppressed. Id . To the extent Claimant is asserting an additional objection based on the interrogatories themselves, just as in $133, 420, Claimant has offered no "coherent support for those objections, " and the Court similarly rejects them. 672 F.3d at 644.
The Court therefore finds that Plaintiff's motion should be GRANTED. Nonetheless, the Court notes that Claimant has so far declined to raise any Fifth Amendment objections to these interrogatories. Because "courts must seek to accommodate the defendant's right against self-incrimination in a civil forfeiture proceeding, " United States v. Thirteen (13) Mach. Guns , 689 F.2d 861, 864 (9th Cir. 1982), nothing in this order should be construed to bar Claimant from raising such an objection.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the United States' Motion to Compel Answers from Julio Figueroa to Special interrogatories is GRANTED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Julio Figueroa shall serve supplemental answers no later than fourteen (14) days from the date of this order.