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United States v. One 2015 Chevrolet City Express Ls Vin 3N63M0YN1FK725252

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

April 9, 2019




         This matter involves a civil asset forfeiture action where an individual claiming property that was seized filed a claim with the Government, thereby triggering certain statutory obligations on the part of the Government under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000.

         Johnasty McDaniel filed a claim with the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) for a 2015 Chevrolet City Express LS VIN 3N63M0YN1FK725252 (the “Defendant Vehicle”). The DEA, acknowledged receipt of the claim on October 27, 2017. On January 4, 2019, the Government filed a Complaint for Forfeiture In Rem for the Defendant Vehicle. [Filing No. 1.] After filing a verified claim with the Court asserting ownership of the Defendant Vehicle, Ms. McDaniel has now moved to dismiss the Government's Complaint, and that motion is ripe for the Court's review. [Filing No. 8.]

         I. Standard of Review

          Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a claim that does not state a right to relief. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint provide the defendant with “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must accept all well-pled facts as true and draw all permissible inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Active Disposal Inc. v. City of Darien, 635 F.3d 883, 886 (7th Cir. 2011). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss asks whether the complaint “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The Court will not accept legal conclusions or conclusory allegations as sufficient to state a claim for relief. See McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 617 (7th Cir. 2011). Factual allegations must plausibly state an entitlement to relief “to a degree that rises above the speculative level.” Munson v. Gaetz, 673 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2012). This plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.

         In addition, civil forfeiture complaints are subject to a heightened pleading standard described in Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. G. See United States v. Funds in the Amount of $239, 400, 795 F.3d 639, 641 (7th Cir. 2015) (“Rule G is a supplement to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that applies to in rem actions like this forfeiture case”). That rule states, in relevant part, that a complaint must:

(a) be verified; (b) state the grounds for subject-matter jurisdiction, in rem jurisdiction over the defendant property, and venue; (c) describe the property with reasonable particularity; (d) if the property is tangible, state its location when any seizure occurred and - if different - its location when the action is filed; (e) identify the statute under which the forfeiture action is brought; and (f) state sufficiently detailed facts to support a reasonable belief that the government will be able to meet its burden of proof at trial.

Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. G(2).

         II. Background

         Prior to setting forth the facts of this case, the Court first addresses the attachments included in the parties' filings. Both the Government and Ms. McDaniel attached certain supplementary documents to their filings. The Government attached a warrant for the arrest of the property to its Complaint, [Filing No. 1-2], while Ms. McDaniel attached both a sentencing order and a letter acknowledging her claim for the Defendant Vehicle from the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”), [Filing No. 8-1; Filing No. 8-2]. “If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). However, it is well settled that the court may take judicial notice of matters in the public record. Palay v. United States, 349 F.3d 418, 425 n. 5 (7th Cir. 2003), and both the arrest warrant and the sentencing order qualify as such. See Sherman v. Chiapetta, 2012 WL 4793502, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 9, 2012) (taking judicial notice of an arrest warrant); Boyd v. Alcoke, 2010 WL 3420124, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 27, 2010) (taking judicial notice of criminal sentencing order). As for the DEA letter acknowledging receipt of Ms. McDaniel's claim, the Seventh Circuit has held that executive and agency determinations are subject to judicial notice, Fornalik v. Perryman, 223 F.3d 523, 529 (7th Cir. 2000) (taking judicial notice of the notice sent to an individual by an executive agency advising him of the status of his immigration action), and therefore the Court concludes that it may take judicial notice of the DEA letter. Accordingly, the Court need not convert Ms. McDaniel's Motion to Dismiss to a motion for summary judgment. In accordance with the foregoing, the following are the factual allegations set forth in the Complaint, as well as in the parties' attachments.

         From April 2016 through May 2017, the DEA utilized a confidential informant to execute controlled buys of drugs from members of a drug trafficking organization (“DTO.”) [Filing No. 1 at 2.] On July 29, 2017, the DEA conducted surveillance of two members of the DTO who used the Defendant Vehicle to drive from Indianapolis, Indiana to Gary, Indiana as part of a drug deal. [Filing No. 1 at 2-3.] On August 15, 2017, pursuant to a search warrant, the DEA searched the residence of one of the DTO members and seized drugs, weapons, and the Defendant Vehicle. [Filing No. 1 at 4.] The Defendant Vehicle was registered to Ms. McDaniel, who was the girlfriend of one of the DTO members. [Filing No. 1 at 4.]

         On September 13, 2017, the Government filed an indictment (the “Indictment”) against the DTO members. [Filing No. 1 at 4.] The Indictment gave notice that the United States would seek to forfeit any property “constituting or derived from any proceeds the defendants obtained directly or indirectly as a result of the offenses . . . and any and all property used or intended to be used in any manner or part to commit and to facilitate the commission of the offenses.” [Filing No. 1 at 2.]

         On October 11, 2017, the DEA received a claim for the Defendant Vehicle from Ms. McDaniel. [Filing No.1 at 4]. On October 27, 2017, the DEA acknowledged receipt of Ms. McDaniel's claim for the Defendant Vehicle. [Filing No. 8-1.]

         On August 31, 2018, at the sentencing hearing for one of the DTO members, the Court ordered the forfeiture of $19, 177.00 and a Taurus 45 caliber pistol but did ...

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