United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HAROLD ALBRITTON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
in rem action is before the court on a Motion to
Dismiss filed by claimant, Ruby Barton ("Barton"),
as Executor of the Estate of Rodriguez Garth, (Doc. #14) and
a Motion to Strike filed by the United States (the
"Government") (Doc. # 15).
Motion to Dismiss, Barton argues that this court lacks in
rem jurisdiction over this case because in rem
jurisdiction first attached and remains in state court (Doc.
# 14). In response, the Government argues, even if in
rem jurisdiction first attached in state court, it
voluntarily relinquished jurisdiction when it issued a
turnover order of the property to this court (Docs. #17, 18,
& 20). Barton replies that a state court may not divest
its in rem jurisdiction without a judgment on the
merits on that claim (Doc. # 23). Barton has filed a claim in
this court, but contends that the state court has
Government's Motion to Strike, the Government contends
that Barton lacks standing to assert a claim, because the
deadline for filing her claim and Motion to Dismiss have
passed (Doc. # 15). The Government contends that this court
has jurisdiction, not the state court. In response, Barton
concedes that her filings were untimely; however, she submits
that if the court has jurisdiction over this action, the
court should exercise its discretion in extending the
deadlines for both filings (Doc. # 22).
reasons that follow, both Motions are due to be DENIED.
Verified Complaint, claims, exhibits to pleadings, and briefs
show the following facts:
13, 2016, the Millbrook Police Department responded to a 911
telephone call stating Rodriguez Lakeith Garth
("Garth") had been shot. Police and medical
personnel responded to the call and located Garth at a local
Sonic Drive-in restaurant. Officers observed multiple gunshot
sized holes through the driver's side window of
Garth's Mercedes vehicle. Garth was transported to
Baptist South Hospital in Montgomery, Alabama for treatment.
Afterwards, officers seized Defendant $4, 550.00 from the
vehicle and Garth's person (Doc. # 1).
investigation later revealed that Garth had been shot at his
residence in Millbrook, Alabama and that he had driven
himself to the Sonic Drive-in. This information led officers
to obtain a search warrant for Garth's residence. Judge
Glenn Goggans of the Elmore County District Court, an Alabama
state court, issued the search warrant on May 14, 2016, the
day after the shooting (Doc. # 17-1). The warrant authorized
officers to search Garth's residence for evidence related
to the shooting. Multiple officers, making up a joint task
force of state and federal law enforcement officers, were
involved in the execution of the warrant, including Officer
Talley of the Elmore County Sheriffs Office, members of the
DEA Montgomery residence office, and agents from the Central
Alabama Drug Task Force.
entry into Garth's residence, officers noticed the
presence of illegal narcotics and assorted firearms. Judge
Goggans then issued a second search warrant (Doc. # 17-3),
which allowed officers to search Garth's residence and
any vehicles on the property and to seize evidence of illegal
narcotics, in addition to evidence related to the shooting.
During the search of the residence, the garage, and the car
in the garage, officers found and seized four
"totes" containing 11 "bundles" of
marijuana, eight "bundles" of marijuana in a
closet, four gallon-size plastic bags of cocaine, a digital
scale, a Ruger LCP pistol, a Ruger P35 pistol, 6 cellular
telephones, assorted jewelry (of which at least some pieces
are Defendants in this action), "AR" 15 magazines,
assorted documents, and several large quantities of U.S.
currency, including Defendants $15, 780.00 and $389, 820.00.
Officers also seized three (3) vehicles from Garth's
residence, including the Mercedes driven by Garth on the day
of the shooting, the Defendant Chevrolet Chevelle, and a
Cadillac DTS (Docs. # 14-1, 17-5).
died on June 16, 2016, about a month after the shooting.
Plaintiff Barton subsequently became Executor of Garth's
Defendants were transferred to the DEA's possession and
administrative forfeiture proceedings were commenced. On July
27, 2016, Barton, in her capacity as Executor, filed a claim
with the DEA asserting ownership of the Defendant currency. A
little over two months later, on September 29, 2016, Barton
filed another claim with the DEA asserting ownership over the
Defendants Chevrolet Chevelle and Miscellaneous Jewelry.
These claims with the DEA brought about the end of the
federal administrative proceedings in this case (Doc. # 17).
December 20, 2016, the United States filed a Verified
Complaint in this court, seeking forfeiture of the Defendants
in rem (Doc. #1), Warrant of Arrest in Rem was
issued on December 21 and returned as executed on December 28
(Doc. #3-7). Barton received notice of the Government's
Complaint on December 30, 2016 (Doc. # 9).
February 15, 2017, Barton filed a claim for the Defendant
property in this court (Doc. #12).
March 17, 2017, Barton filed a suit in the state Circuit
Court for the 19th Judicial Circuit, Civil Action No.
CV-17-900092, seeking return of the Defendant property on the
basis that no state forfeiture action had been timely filed
by the state and, therefore, the estate of Garth was entitled
to the property pursuant to Code of Ala., 1975, §
20-2-93(c). (Doc. # 22-2).
March 22, 2017, Barton filed the Motion to Dismiss for Lack
of Jurisdiction now before the court and on March 24, 2017,
the Government filed its Motion to Strike.
April 6, 2017, the District Attorney for the state 19th
Judicial Circuit filed an Ex Parte Motion for Turnover Order
in the Elmore County District Court, reciting that no state
forfeiture action in rem was pending in state court
and that it was in the best interest of justice that the
Defendant property in this case be turned over for federal
forfeiture proceedings, which Judge Goggans, the state court
judge who had issued the search warrant, granted by ordering
the turnover. (Doc. # 17-6).
April 11, 2017, Judge Goggans vacated his April 6th Order on
the basis that Barton's state court suit was pending in
the state circuit court, not his district court, at the time
he entered his order. (Doc. # 24-2).
on May 2, 2017, the state District Attorney filed a Motion
for Turnover Order in the state court case before the Elmore
County Circuit Court requesting that court to enter an order
to turnover the Defendant property for purposes of this
federal forfeiture proceeding, thereby relinquishing any
jurisdiction that court might have over the property. (Doc. #
3, 2017, Circuit Judge Sibley G. Reynolds entered an Order to
Turn Over Property, granting the State's motion. (Doc. #
basis for Barton's Motion to Dismiss is that the state
court had jurisdiction of the property at the time she filed
her suit in the state circuit court and continues to have
jurisdiction until that case is disposed of, to the exclusion
of jurisdiction by this court. The Government denies that
contention and also, by its Motion to Strike the Verified