United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT
WILLIAM ALSUP, District Judge.
In this in rem forfeiture action, the government moves for default judgment against defendant currency of approximately $35, 090.00. To the extent stated in the last paragraph of this order, default judgment is GRANTED.
On October 11, 2013, agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration set up surveillance at the San Francisco International Airport. After observing non-party Leroy Byrd exit the jet way of Gate 42 and pick-up a silver suitcase from the carousel, Task Force agents stopped Byrd, identified themselves to him, and asked if they could search his suitcase. Byrd said yes. The in rem defendant currency - approximately $35, 090.00 - was later found therein, contained in several vacuum-sealed bags and loose rubber-banded bundles. In part because Byrd had previously been arrested for a number of drug offenses, including possession with the intent to sell and deliver marijuana as well as sale and delivery of cocaine, the Task Force agents seized defendant currency for further investigation. There was no warrant for this seizure, so far as the record shows. Nor is Byrd currently incarcerated (Dkt. No. 22).
Thereafter, the Task Force agents cleared a bag area at the airport with a narcotic-detection canine, and placed defendant currency inside a fire-extinguisher locker within that cleared area. The narcotic-detention canine subsequently alerted agents to the locker, indicating an odor of narcotics coming from the currency itself.
This action then began on May 16, 2014. In its complaint, the government alleges that defendant currency is subject to forfeiture under Section 881(a)(6) of Title 21 of the United States Code, as money furnished or intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for a controlled substance or listed chemical in violation of Subchapter I, Chapter 13 of Title 21 of the United States Code. Direct notice and notice by publication of this action was then issued, and the Clerk entered default on July 22, 2014 (Dkt. No. 17). To date, there have been no claims or answers in this action.
The government has now moved for default judgment. There are two sets of applicable rules - the procedural ones governing civil forfeiture, and the factors to consider under Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986). This order discusses both below.
1. PROCEDURAL RULES FOR CIVILFORFEITURE.
With respect to seizure, Section 881(a)(6) provides that "any property subject to forfeiture to the United States under this section may be seized by the Attorney General in the manner set forth in section 981(b) of Title 18." Section 981(b)(2)(A), in turn, permits a seizure without a warrant if "a complaint for forfeiture has been filed in the United States district court and the court issued an arrest warrant in rem pursuant to the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims."
This order finds that the requirements of Section 981(b)(2)(A) are met. As mandated by Supplemental Rule G(2) and (3) for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims, the government filed the verified complaint for this action on May 16, 2014 (Dkt. No. 1). Among other items, that complaint set forth sufficient factual grounds for jurisdiction and venue, a description of defendant currency, and the statute under which this action was brought. The complaint also alleged enough facts to support a reasonable belief that the government would meet its burden of proof at trial (Compl. ¶¶ 7-24). Furthermore, the Clerk issued a warrant to arrest defendant currency on May 19, 2014 (Dkt. No. 5). Under these rules, the seizure of this currency was accordingly proper.
The government must also provide adequate notice to potential claimants. Because this action arises from a federal statute, Admiralty Local Rule 6-(1)(a)(1) applies, stating (emphasis in original):
(a) Notice Required. A party seeking a default judgment in an action in rem must show that due notice of the action and ...