United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
AARON POLSTER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court in this civil forfeiture case is the United
States' Motion for Summary Judgment on the Issue of
Standing etc. Doc #: 12. For the following
reasons, the Motion is GRANTED.
March 13, 2018, Addonisse Wells was a ticketed passenger on a
flight departing Cleveland Hopkins International Airport
destined for Houston, Texas. Doc #: 1 (“Comp.) ¶
6. Routine screening of his carry-on luggage alerted for the
presence of an organic bulk mass, leading TSA to conduct an
examination of the luggage. Id. ¶¶ 7, 8.
After discovering several rubber-banded bundles of
mixed-denomination U.S. currency, TSA notified the Cleveland
Police Department (“CPD”). Id.
¶¶ 9, 10. Upon determining that the large amount of
U.S. currency was likely the proceeds of criminal activity,
the CPD referred the matter to Homeland Security
Investigations (“HMI”) for further investigation.
Id. ¶ 11. An HSI agent and Task Force Officer
asked Wells to accompany them to the HSI office where he was
interviewed. Id. ¶¶ 10, 11.
stated that the bag and all its contents belonged to him and
that he was carrying $39, 000.00 in U.S. currency. Comp.
¶ 12. He explained that while he lives in Houston, he
does all his banking in Cleveland. Id. Wells claimed
he had taken all the currency out of the Cleveland bank on
various dates, but was unable to provide any bank receipts.
Id. ¶ 14. Wells asserted that he was originally
from Cleveland and owns a real estate business, but would not
provide the name of his business, nor the locations of any
real property he owns. Id. ¶ 15. Wells provided
a contact phone number, but then stated he would be changing
the phone number the next day to avoid further contact by law
enforcement. Id. ¶ 16. Wells stated that he had
served 6-plus years in prison and was currently on federal
probation for a drug conviction. Comp. ¶ 17. A certified
drug-detection canine alerted positive to the odor of
narcotics on the currency. Id. ¶ 19. Wells has
a drug-related criminal history that includes a 2012
conviction for conspiracy to possess with intent to
distribute heroin in the U.S. District Court for the Northern
District of Ohio, and arrests in Cleveland, Ohio for
possession of drugs in 2005 and 2007. Id. ¶ 19.
Based on these circumstances, HSI seized the $39, 000.00 in
currency. Id. ¶ 20.
30, 2018, the United States filed a Complaint in Forfeiture
against the Defendant Currency alleging that it is subject to
forfeiture under 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) in that the funds
constitute proceeds from illegal drug trafficking activities
and/or were used or intended to be used to facilitate drug
trafficking in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)
and/or 846. Comp.1 ¶ 5.
August 14, 2018, Wells filed a Verified Claim. Doc #: 4.
Wells asserts that he was “the sole and absolute owner
of the monies, ” he was “in sole and exclusive
possession of all of these monies when it was unlawfully
removed from [his] exclusive possession and control, ”
and he continues “to be victimized by the illegal
retention of the funds here involved.” Id.
judgment is appropriate when no genuine issues of material
fact exist and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322-23 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) and
LaPointe v. UAW Local 600, 8 F.3d 376, 378 (6th Cir.
1993)). The burden of showing the absence of genuine issues
of material facts rests with the moving party:
[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial
responsibility of informing the district court of the basis
for its motion, and identifying those portions of “the
pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with affidavits, ” if any,
which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue
of material fact.
United States v. $99, 500.00 in U.S. Currency, 339
F.Supp.2d 690, 694 (N.D. Ohio 2018) (citing Celotex,
477 U.S. at 323, in turn quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The
nonmoving party must present significant probative evidence
to demonstrate that there is [more than] some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts.” Id. (citing
Moore v. Philip Morris Cos., Inc., 8 Fed.3d 335, 340
(6th Cir. 1993)). That is, the nonmoving party may not rely
on its pleadings, but must produce evidence that results in a
conflict of material fact to be solved by a jury.”
Id. (citing Cox v. Kentucky Dep't of
Transp., 53 F.3d 146, 150 (6th Cir. 1995)). The mere
existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the
nonmoving party's position will be insufficient to
survive summary judgment. If the evidence is “merely
colorable” and not “significantly probative,
” the court may decide the legal issue and grant
summary judgment. Id. (quoting Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).
law governing civil in rem forfeiture actions gives the
government the authority to seize items it suspects were used
in furtherance of criminal activity, and to commence civil
forfeiture proceedings against the property without charging
the property's owner with a crime. United States v.
$31, 000.00 in U.S. Currency, 872 F.3d 342, 344 (6th
Cir. 2017). The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, 18 U.S.C.
§ 983, sets forth the General Rules for Civil Forfeiture
Proceedings, and allows persons claiming an interest in that
property to do so in the manner set forth in the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure's Supplemental Rules for
Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Civil Forfeiture Actions
(“Rule”). 18 U.S.C. §§ 983(a)(4)(A),
(B). Rule G governs pleadings, discovery, and motion practice
in civil forfeiture actions.
person who wishes to intervene and assert an interest in the
property in a civil forfeiture case must file two responsive
pleadings: a verified claim and an answer. Rule G(5). The
verified claim must identify the specific property claimed,
identify the claimant, state the claimant's interest in
the property, and be signed by the claimant under penalty of
perjury. Rule G(5)(a)(I). The mere assertion of ownership in
a verified claim or answer is sufficient to confer standing
over the property at the pleading stage. $31, 000.00 in
U.S. Currency, 872 F.3d at ...