United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR
DEFAULT JUDGMENT RE: DKT. NO. 32
VIRGINIA K. DEMARCHI, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an in rem action for civil forfeiture of nine
firearms seized after execution of a search warrant at a
private residence. Dkt. No. 1. The United States now moves
for default judgment. Dkt. No. 32. On May 14, 2019, the Court
heard oral argument on the United States' motion. Dkt.
No. 37. Having considered the United States' moving
papers and arguments at the hearing, the Court grants the
United States' motion for default judgment as to one of
the grounds for forfeiture asserted, and denies the motion as
to the other.
Court has jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1355, which vests district courts with original
jurisdiction in civil forfeiture proceedings. 28 U.S.C. §
1355(a). In addition, this action is properly venued in this
district because the defendant property is located in this
district, and the acts or omissions giving rise to their
forfeiture occurred in this district. Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 3; 28
U.S.C. § 1355 (b)(1).
22, 2018, the United States commenced this action by filing a
verified forfeiture complaint against the following property
(“the defendant property”):
1) One (1) Colt .38 Super caliber, Government model pistol
bearing serial number 2933159;
2) One (1) Colt .38 Super caliber, Custom model pistol
bearing serial number ELCEN8536;
3) One (1) Colt .38 Super caliber, Super 38 model pistol
bearing serial number 36756;
4) One (1) Colt .38 Super caliber, Commander model pistol
bearing serial number 27057-LW;
5) One (1) Colt .38 Super caliber, Government model pistol
bearing serial number 38SS05430;
6) One (1) Colt .38 Super caliber, Government model pistol
bearing serial number 38SS09144;
7) One (1) Colt .38 Super caliber, Government model pistol
bearing serial number 38SS09196;
8) One (1) Colt .38 Super caliber, Government model pistol
bearing serial number MHE252; and
9) One (1) Colt .380 caliber, MKIV Mustang model pistol
bearing serial number MU24832.
Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 1.
United States seized the defendant property on December 20,
2017 pursuant to a federal search warrant issued in
conjunction with an investigation into the unlicensed dealing
of firearms. See Id. ¶¶ 7, 15-19; see
also Dkt. No. 32 at 5. The defendant property was found
at a private residence in Salinas, California alleged to be
the residence of Oscar Camacho, Jr., along with evidence of
drug trafficking, including cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin,
$12, 951 in cash, and four digital scales. Id.
¶¶ 16, 18. Mr. Camacho, Jr. is a convicted felon.
Id. ¶ 9. According the complaint, Mr. Camacho,
Jr. obtained the firearms from Carlos Fernandez, a police
detective who purchased firearms available only to law
enforcement and illegally resold them to private buyers
through Ronin Tactical Group (“Ronin Tactical”).
Id. ¶¶ 7-11, 12-14. The complaint also
alleges that Mr. Camacho, Jr.'s father, Oscar Camacho,
Sr., and his brother, Rafael Camacho, acted as straw buyers
who purchased firearms from Mr. Fernandez for Mr. Camacho,
Jr. Id. ¶¶ 9, 13, 19, 29, 31-33, 35-37,
January 2018, a grand jury indicted Mr. Camacho, Jr. for
possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in violation
of 21 U.S.C. §§ 831(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B)(ii) and
unlawful possession of ammunition by a convicted felon in
violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2).
Id. ¶ 45; United States v. Camacho,
No. 18-cr-00001-BLF, Dkt. No. 7 (Jan. 4, 2018). No trial has
been scheduled in that action. The United States asserts that
the defendant property is subject to forfeiture pursuant to
18 U.S.C. § 924(d)(1) as firearms possessed by a
convicted felon, and pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6)
as property constituting or derived from proceeds obtained,
directly or indirectly, as a result of distribution or
possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
Id. ¶¶ 1, 46-52.
21, 2018, the United States served via certified mail copies
of the complaint, notice of forfeiture action, warrants of
arrest of property in rem, and other documents
related to this action on Mr. Camacho, Jr. and four other
potential claimants (collectively, “the potential
claimants”): Oscar Camacho, Sr., Rafael Camacho, Carlos
Fernandez, and Rudy Fernandez. Dkt. No. 24. The United States
also published a notice of forfeiture action on an official
government Internet site (www.forfeiture.gov) for 30
consecutive days beginning on July 28, 2018. Dkt. No. 25.
None of the potential claimants nor any other person has
filed a claim in this action.
January 29, 2019, the United States requested entry of
default as to the potential claimants. Dkt. No. 28. The Clerk
of the Court entered default against the potential claimants
on January 30, 2019. Dkt. No. 29. The United States now seeks
entry of default judgment declaring the defendant property
forfeited to the United States. Dkt. No. 32.
forfeiture proceedings are governed by specific forfeiture
statutes, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (18
U.S.C. § 983), the Supplemental Rules for Certain
Admiralty and Maritime Claims (“Supplemental
Rules”), and this district's Admiralty Local Rules.
Because civil forfeiture is generally disfavored due to the
limited procedural protections available to property owners,
United States v. $191, 910.00 in U.S. Currency, 16
F.3d 1051, 1069 (9th Cir. 1994), the Ninth Circuit requires
strict adherence to the procedural rules governing civil
forfeiture proceedings. See United States v. Marolf,
173 F.3d 1213, 1217 (9th Cir. 1999) (denying forfeiture where
government “erred” by failing to provide due
notice to property owner); $191, 910.00 in U.S.
Currency, 16 F.3d at 1068-69 (strictly construing
currency forfeiture provisions of 19 U.S.C. § 615
against government and holding that “the burden on the
government to adhere to procedural rules should be heavier
than on claimants”).
to Rule 55(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a
district court may enter default judgment where the Clerk of
the Court, pursuant to Rule 55(a), has previously entered
default based upon a failure to plead or otherwise defend an
action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). However, entry of default
judgment in the plaintiff's favor is not automatic.
Aldabe v. Aldabe, 616 F.2d 1089, 1092 (9th Cir.
1980) (noting that the district court's decision on
whether to enter default judgment is discretionary).
deciding whether to enter default judgment, a court should
consider the following factors: (1) the possibility of
prejudice to the plaintiff; (2) the merits of the
plaintiff's substantive claim; (3) the sufficiency of the
complaint; (4) the sum of money at stake in the action; (5)
the possibility of a dispute concerning material facts; (6)
whether the default was due to excusable neglect; and (7) the
strong policy underlying the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
favoring decisions on the merits. Eitel v. McCool,
782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986). In considering these
factors, all factual ...