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Hopson v. State

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

June 21, 2019

Betty Hopson
v.
State of Alabama

          Appeal from Lee Circuit Court (CV-15-900526)

          EDWARDS, Judge.

         Betty Hopson ("Betty") appeals from a judgment entered by the Lee Circuit Court ("the trial court") ordering the forfeiture of a 2002 Chevrolet Tahoe sport-utility vehicle ("the Tahoe") that the Opelika Police Department ("the OPD") seized from the possession of Betty's 33-year-old grandson, Bryan Patrick Hopson ("Bryan").

         On September 16, 2015, after the OPD received information that Bryan allegedly was selling methamphetamine from the Tahoe, an officer from the OPD stopped Bryan for changing lanes without using a signal. Thereafter, Bryan consented to a search of the Tahoe. That search allegedly revealed

"a white sock hidden inside a McDonald's [fast-food restaurant] bag in the front passenger floorboard. The sock contained a black digital scale, a plastic bag with numerous small plastic baggies, a plastic bag containing suspected methamphetamine and [a] black plastic bag which contained two plastic bags of suspected methamphetamine and loose pieces of suspected methamphetamine."

         On September 22, 2015, the State filed a complaint for forfeiture of the Tahoe ("the forfeiture action"); Bryan, who allegedly had title to the Tahoe, was served with a copy of the complaint. In the complaint, the State alleged that the Tahoe had been used to transport a controlled substance, that the State had possession of the Tahoe, and that, pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, § 20-2-93, the State was entitled to have the Tahoe forfeited to it. The State also pursued criminal charges against Bryan.

         On August 10, 2016, before a grand jury considered the proposed criminal charges against Bryan, Bryan informed the trial court that someone else allegedly owned the Tahoe. On August 10, 2016, the trial court entered an order in the forfeiture action requiring Bryan to "provide the State with any title information he has" and requiring the State to "amend its pleadings to include any necessary parties." The record does not reflect that Bryan provided any information to the State in response to the August 2016 order.

         The forfeiture action was delayed pending resolution of the criminal charges against Bryan. On June 16, 2017, Bryan entered a guilty plea on those charges. Included in his guilty plea was a statement that he "agree[d] to forfeiture" of the Tahoe.

         On July 21, 2017, the State filed a motion for a summary judgment in the forfeiture action. That motion stated, in pertinent part:

"The parties have reached a plea agreement in the companion criminal matter, CC 2016-738. Through this plea, [Bryan] acknowledges that the [Tahoe] is due to be declared contraband and forfeited pursuant to Section 20-2-93, Code of Alabama (1975). See Guilty Plea attached as State's Exhibit 1."

         The trial court entered an order granting the State's motion for a summary judgment on August 10, 2017.

         Pursuant to Rule 59(e), Ala. R. Civ. P., Bryan filed a motion to alter, amend, or vacate the order granting the State's motion for a summary judgment.[1] He alleged that the Tahoe was owned by Betty, who had not been made a party to the State's forfeiture action or served with process, that Bryan had not contributed financially to the purchase of the Tahoe, and that the Tahoe, "titled in [Betty's] name, was purchased by her from provable funds withdrawn from her bank for the purpose of purchase of the [Tahoe] and [Betty] had no knowledge that Bryan ... [was] in possession of drugs while in the [Tahoe]."[2] The motion continues:

"4. That the motion for summary judgment was filed and ruled on prior to setting of any hearing. That there is no order other than an order granting summary judgment which order is not clear as being dispositive of the ownership of the [Tahoe] at this time.
"5. That ... Betty ... is still the owner of the [Tahoe] as [Bryan] could not agree to extinguish or relinquish her interest. Therefore, it appears that the State's motion for summary judgment, while due to be granted as to [Bryan], is not dispositive of ...

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