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Washington v. Marion County Prosecutor

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 7, 2017

LEROY WASHINGTON on his own behalf, and on behalf of a Class of those similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
MARION COUNTY PROSECUTOR, MAYOR OF THE CONSOLIDATED CITY OF INDIANAPOLIS/MARION COUNTY, CHIEF OF THE INDIANAPOLIS METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge United States District Court

         Plaintiff Leroy Washington's car was seized and held for forfeiture following his arrest, pursuant to Indiana Code Section 34-24-1-2(a)(1). Mr. Washington commenced this action against Defendants the Marion County Prosecutor (the “Prosecutor”), the Mayor of the Consolidated City of Indianapolis/Marion County (the “Mayor”), and the Chief of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (the “Chief”) in their official capacities, challenging the forfeiture statute (and the Defendants' enforcement of it) as unconstitutional. Presently pending before the Court is the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Mr. Washington's Complaint. [Filing No. 24.] For the reasons that follow, the Court denies the Defendants' Motion.

         I.

         Background

         Mr. Washington is a resident of Marion County, Indiana. [Filing No. 1 at 4.] On September 21, 2016, a law enforcement officer with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (“IMPD”) stopped a vehicle driven and owned by Mr. Washington. [Filing No. 1 at 6.] Mr. Washington was subsequently arrested and charged with several felony offenses.[1] [Filing No. 1 at 6.] The arresting officer had Mr. Washington's vehicle towed and held for forfeiture, pursuant to Indiana Code Section 34-24-1-2(a)(1). [Filing No. 1 at 7.] On November 1, 2016, Mr. Washington made a demand for the return of his property, both electronically and by U.S. Mail. [Filing No. 1 at 7]; see I.C. § 34-24-1-3.

         On November 2, 2016, Mr. Washington filed a Complaint in this Court, on behalf of himself and other putative class members. [Filing No. 1.] Mr. Washington alleges that Indiana Code Section 34-24-1-2(a)(1) violates the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, and is therefore illegal, because “it allows the executive branch to seize and hold the vehicle of an owner for several months without affording the owner the right to a postseizure hearing to challenge the seizure.” [Filing No. 1 at 1.] The Complaint requests a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, along with costs and attorneys' fees. [Filing No. 1 at 7.] It also requests the certification of Mr. Washington's proposed class. [Filing No. 1 at 7.] Contemporaneously with the filing of his Complaint, Mr. Washington filed a Motion for Class Certification and a Memorandum in Support of his Motion for Class Certification. [Filing No. 3; Filing No. 4.]

         The Prosecutor requested an extension of time to respond to Mr. Washington's first discovery requests, and the parties agreed that the responses would be due February 3, 2016. [Filing No. 27-7 at 1.] On February 3, the date the Prosecutor's discovery responses were due, the Defendants filed a Joint Motion to Dismiss, stating that:

[a]s of February 3, 2017, the vehicle subject to the Marion County forfeiture action, the vehicle at issue in this lawsuit, is being released to [Mr.] Washington by the Marion County Prosecutor's Office and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, and the Marion County Prosecutor's Office has terminated the foreclosure action against [Mr.] Washington's vehicle.

         [Filing No. 24 at 2.] In that Motion, the Defendants contend that because the vehicle is being released to Mr. Washington, no further relief can be granted to him, and this matter is therefore moot. [Filing No. 24 at 2.] Mr. Washington filed his response [Filing No. 26], and the Defendants did not file a reply.

         II.

         Legal Standard

         The Court construes the Defendants' motion as being raised under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), requesting dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) allows a party to dismiss a claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). The burden is on the plaintiff to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that subject-matter jurisdiction exists for his or her claims. See Lee v. City of Chicago, 330 F.3d 456, 468 (7th Cir. 2003).

         Article III of the Constitution grants federal courts jurisdiction over “cases and controversies[, ]” and the standing doctrine is the tool used to identify which cases and controversies the federal judicial process can appropriately resolve. Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 154-55 (1990). Standing is “the threshold question in every federal case, determining the power of the court to entertain the suit.” Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975). “[T]he ‘irreducible constitutional minimum' of standing consists of three elements. The plaintiff must have (1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robbins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016) (internal citations omitted).

         This Court's jurisdiction depends on “an actual controversy [that] must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed.” Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 67 (1997). Thus, if the controversy defined by a legal claim is no longer live, or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome, the claim is moot, and the court must dismiss for want of jurisdiction. SeeCity of Erie v. Pap's A.M.,529 U.S. 277, 287 (2000); North Carolina v. Rice,404 U.S. 244, 246 (1971) (per curiam) (“Mootness is a jurisdictional question because the Court ‘is not empowered to decide moot questions or abstract propositions, ' ... our impotence ‘to review moot cases ...


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