United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. MARKS, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
an action for civil forfeiture of the Defendant property
brought by the United States of America pursuant to 21 U.S.C.
§ 881(a)(6). Now pending before the Court are the
Government's motion for summary judgment filed on June
12, 2019, (doc. 90), and Claimant Ruby Barton's motion
for summary judgment filed June 13, 2019 (doc. 95). The
Government filed a response in opposition to the
Claimant's motion for summary judgment on July 8, 2019.
(Doc. 97). For the reasons set forth below, the Court
concludes that the Government's motion for summary
judgment is due to be GRANTED and the Claimant's motion
for summary judgment is due to be DENIED.
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1345 and § 1355. Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1395 and 21 U.S.C. § 881(j).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary Judgment Standard
judgment should be granted only if “there is no issue
as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The
movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact by identifying
those portions of “‘the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929
F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). The movant may carry this
burden “by demonstrating that the nonmoving party has
failed to present sufficient evidence to support an essential
element of the case.” Hornsby-Culpepper v.
Ware, 906 F.3d 1302, 1311 (11th Cir. 2018) (citing
Celotex Corp v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23
burden then shifts to the non-moving party to go beyond the
pleadings and designate “specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex,
477 U.S. at 324. To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving
party “must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.”
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).
court generally must view all evidence and make all
reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary
judgment.” Fla. Int'l Univ. Bd. of Trs. v. Fla.
Nat'l Univ., Inc., 830 F.3d 1242, 1252
(11th Cir. 2016). However, “conclusory allegations
without specific supporting facts have no probative
value.” Jefferson v. Sewon Am., Inc., 891 F.3d
911, 924-25 (11th Cir. 2018). If the record, taken as a
whole, “could not lead a rational trier of fact to find
for the non-moving party, ” then there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the court must grant
summary judgment. Hornsby-Culpepper, 906 F.3d at
1311 (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd., 475
U.S. at 587).
Summary Judgment in Civil Forfeiture Cases
forfeiture proceeding is governed by the Civil Asset
Forfeiture Reform Act (“CAFRA”).
The Government's Burden
CAFRA, the United States must prove “by a preponderance
of the evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture,
” that is, that there is a “substantial
connection between” the property and illegal drug
activity. 18 U.S.C. § 983(c)(1) and (3). Whether the
government has shown probable cause for forfeiture is a
question of law. See United States v. Four Parcels of
Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1439 n.22 (11th Cir.
1991). Probable cause in this context is a reasonable ground
for belief: something more than mere suspicion but less than
prima facie proof. United States v. Cleckler, 270
F.3d 1331, 1334 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing United States v.
$121, 100.00 in United States Currency, 999 F.2d 1503,
1506 (11th Cir. 1993)).
have been cautioned in civil forfeiture proceedings
“not to dissect strands of evidence as discrete and
disconnected occurrences.” United States v.
$22, 991.00, More or Less, in United States
Currency, 227 F.Supp.2d 1220, 1235-36 (S.D. Ala. 2002).
The Court must instead evaluate the evidence, applying a
common-sense view of the realities of normal life in the
totality of the circumstances. See United States v.
Carrell, 252 F.3d 1193, 1201 (11th Cir. 2001).
to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6), the government is not required
to demonstrate that the seized currency was connected with
any particular drug transaction; instead, the government need
only show that the money was “related to some illegal
drug transaction.” United States v. $242,
484.00, 389 F.3d 1149, 1160 (11th Cir. 2004) (en banc).
The Government may use evidence gathered after the filing of
a complaint for forfeiture to meet its burden. 18 U.S.C.
The Claimant's Burden
the Government has met its burden, the burden shifts to the
Claimant to prove by a preponderance of evidence either a
defense to the forfeiture or to prove that the property is
not otherwise subject to forfeiture. 18 U.S.C. §
983(d)(1); United States v. $52, 000.00, More or Less, in
United States Currency, 508 F.Supp.2d 1036, 1040 (S.D.
Ala. 2007) (citing United States v. $21, 000.00 in United
States Postal Money Orders, 298 F.Supp.2d 597, 601 (E.D.
Mich. 2003)). “The claimant may meet this burden either
by rebutting the government's evidence or by showing that
the claimant is an innocent owner.”
Cleckler, 270 F.3d at 1334. If the Government
carries its burden, and the Claimant fails to meet her
burden, the property will be forfeited. See Id.
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