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United States v. Ninety Six Thousand Three Hundred Seventy ($96

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

November 12, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
NINETY SIX THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED SEVENTY ($96, 370.00) DOLLARS IN U.S. CURRENCY, Defendant.

ORDER

W. HAROLD ALBRITTON, Senior District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This cause is before the court on Claimant Arnold Grant's ("Grant") Motion to Reconsider (Doc. # 23) the court's denial of his Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 17). For the reasons discussed below, the motion is due to be DENIED.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Defendant currency was seized on December 17, 2013, in connection with the arrest of Grant's son, Willie Adams Grant, after his vehicle was stopped and searched due to marijuana odor. Doc. # 17 at 1-2. Federal agents took control of the Defendant currency on the same date. Id. at 2. The Government filed its Verified Complaint for Forfeiture In Rem (Doc. # 1) on May 15, 2014. Grant made his initial claim on June 9, 2014, and filed an amended claim (Doc. # 10) on June 19, 2014. The court exercised its discretion to deny the Government's Motion to Strike (Doc. # 12) for failure to file an answer, in part because Grant was proceeding pro se until August 25, 2014. Grant's Motion to Dismiss followed on September 17, 2014. The court denied the Motion to Dismiss for lack of in rem jurisdiction because state and federal law authorize the exercise of federal jurisdiction under these circumstances. Grant filed the pending Motion to Reconsider on November 7, 2014.

III. DISCUSSION

The Motion to Reconsider is grounded in argument that the court's previous denial of the Motion to Dismiss relied on dictum from the case Green v. City of Montgomery, 55 So.3d 256 (Ala. Civ. App. 2009), that Green conflicts with other relevant Alabama case law, and that the court ignored relevant precedent from the Alabama Supreme Court. For the reasons set out below, none of these arguments is persuasive.

a. Green v. City of Montgomery is valid precedent from the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals that stands for the proposition that federal "adoptive seizure" is valid as to a res seized by state authority, so long as there have been no filings in state court before federal jurisdiction attaches.

In Green v. City of Montgomery , the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals was tasked with determining proper jurisdiction over currency seized by city officials. After a traffic stop in which city officials discovered both cash and marijuana in the vehicle, the city transferred the cash to the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") in a process known as "adoptive seizure." Green, 55 So.3d at 257. In its analysis of competing claims of state and federal jurisdiction over the currency, the court held that under these circumstances, state court jurisdiction attaches with the first filing in state court. Id. at 263. In Green, the claimants filed a state court action before the federal government attempted to acquire jurisdiction. Id. at 265. For that reason, state court jurisdiction was valid, to the exclusion of possible federal jurisdiction. Id. As a preliminary holding, the court found that the relevant state statute, ยง 20-2-93, does not prohibit the transfer of validly seized currency to federal authorities as a matter of law. Id. at 261.

Contrary to Grant's arguments, the description of the "two-step process" by which the state court acquires jurisdiction in cases such as these was not dictum in the Green decision. The proposition that state court jurisdiction attaches at the moment of the first state court filing was central to the court's disposition of the case. See id. at 265 ("The claimants' action in state court was an in rem or quasi in rem action, and it invoked state in rem jurisdiction before the federal government attempted to acquire jurisdiction."). If, as Grant claims in his Motion to Reconsider, state court jurisdiction attached upon the seizure of the currency, the Green decision would have required less analysis. Instead, the court there had to engage in an in-depth examination of relevant events to determine when jurisdiction attached at either the state or federal level. The filing of an action in state court-an event that never occurred in the instant case[1]-was the critical moment at which state court jurisdiction attached and precluded any exercise of federal jurisdiction over the defendant currency.

b. Green is consistent with the Court of Civil Appeals's decisions in City of Gadsden v. Jordan and Garrett v. State .

Grant argues in his Motion to Reconsider that for Green 's jurisdictional "two-step process" to be an accurate statement of Alabama law, that decision would have had to reverse Garrett v. State, 739 So.2d 49 (Ala. Civ. App. 1999), and City of Gadsden v. Jordan, 760 So.2d 873 (Ala. Civ. App. 1998), reversed on other grounds, 760 So.2d 877 (Ala. 1999). Specifically, Grant argues that these cases stand for the proposition that seizures, not filings, confer in rem jurisdiction upon Alabama state courts. Doc. # 23 at 8.

City of Gadsden and Garrett are both consistent with the Green decision. In City of Gadsden, the city filed a forfeiture complaint seeking forfeiture of cash and a vehicle against Jordan. 760 So.2d at 874. The court found that jurisdiction was proper, because under Alabama law "[a] court acquires jurisdiction over the property in an in rem proceeding when the res is validly seized and brought within the control of the court." Id. at 875. Critically, there was no federal involvement in the case whatsoever and the city properly filed a forfeiture complaint in state court. The same was true in Garrett, where the court quoted extensively from City of Gadsden in finding that there was proper jurisdiction because "the res was validly seized by [county] law enforcement officers pursuant to process issued by a [county] court. " 739 So.2d at 52 (emphasis added). As in City of Gadsden, there was no competing federal claim to jurisdiction. Furthermore, unlike in the instant case, a state court issued process in order to grant authority for the seizure.

There is no indication in either City of Gadsden or Garrett that seizure itself is sufficient for state jurisdiction to attach. In both cases there was no issue of whether federal jurisdiction existed, and in both cases there were valid filings in state court. Grant makes much of the statement from both decisions that "[a] court acquires jurisdiction over the property in an in rem proceeding when the res is validly seized and brought within the control of the court. " Garrett, 739 So.2d at 52 (quoting City of Gadsden, 760 So.2d at 875) (emphasis added). The upshot of all of this case law is that seizure itself is distinct from the step in which the property is "brought within the control of the court." Green explains that to be "brought within the control of the court, " there must be some kind of filing or process in the state court itself. See Green, 55 So.3d at 260 ("For the res to ...


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