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Lill v. Deal

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

July 23, 2014

WILLIAM LILL, as permanent administrator of the Estate of Robert Lill, Deceased, Plaintiff,
NATHAN DEAL, Governor of the State of Georgia, THE STATE OF GEORGIA, and SHERIFF STEVE JESSUP, Defendants.


LISA GODBEY WOOD, Chief District Judge.

Presently before the Court are Defendants' motions to dismiss, as supplemented by additional briefing by the parties. Dkt. Nos. 6; 8; 20; 21; 22. Upon due consideration, the Court revises a portion of its prior Order. Dkt. No. 17. Despite this amendment, Defendants Nathan Deal and the State of Georgia's Motion to Dismiss Complaint, Dkt. No. 6, and Defendant Sheriff Steve Jessup's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint, Dkt. No. 8, are GRANTED.

I. Factual Background

In the present suit, Plaintiff William Lill, Administrator of the Estate of Robert Lill (the "Deceased"), seeks declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and damages against the State of Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal, and the Sheriff of McIntosh County, Steve Jessup. See Dkt. No. 1.

The Complaint alleges that on July 11, 2009, "McIntosh County deputy sheriffs working under the direction of Sheriff Steven Jessup came to the residence of [the Deceased]." Id . ¶ 8. The deputy sheriffs arrested and hand-cuffed the Deceased and transported him to the McIntosh County Detention Center. Id . ¶ 9. After the Deceased was incarcerated, "[t]he McIntosh County Sheriff's Department conducted a search of the residence" and seized various items of personal property. Id . ¶¶ 10-11.[1]

"On or about July 24, 2009, the McIntosh Sheriff's Office reported to the District Attorney for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit the seizure of property from the residence of [the Deceased]...." Id . ¶ 12. Later, on September 20, 2009, "the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia, acting on behalf of the District Attorneys office of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit, sent a certified letter addressed to [the Deceased's home], which included" a Notice of Seizure of Personal Property." Id . ¶ 13.

The Complaint alleges that this Notice was sent pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 16-13-49(n), which is the code provision concerning forfeitures. That code section states:

If the estimated value of personal property seized is $25, 000.00 or less, the district attorney may elect to proceed under the provisions of this subsection in the following manner:
(1) Notice of the seizure of such property shall be posted in a prominent location in the courthouse of the county in which the property was seized. Such notice shall include a description of the property, the date and place of seizure, the conduct giving rise to forfeiture, a statement that the owner of such property has 30 days within which a claim must be filed, and the violation of law alleged;
(2) A copy of the notice, which shall include a statement that the owner of such property has 30 days within which a claim must be filed, shall be served upon an owner, interest holder, or person in possession of the property at the time of seizure as provided in subsection (1) of this Code section and shall be published for at least three successive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the county where the seizure was made...

O.C.G.A. § 16-13-49(n). Plaintiff contends that the Notice given in this case was statutorily deficient because the Notice did not contain an adequate description of "the violation of law alleged." In addition to sending the Notice to the Deceased's residence, notice was published in The Darien News, the legal organ of McIntosh County. Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 21, 38. The Complaint alleges that "the Prosecuting Attorneys of the State of Georgia advised the McIntosh County Sheriff's Department" to publish a notice of seizure at the McIntosh County Courthouse; however, the Complaint does not specify whether a notice was actually posted at the courthouse. Id . ¶ 19. Plaintiff also contends the notice provided by the State through these various methods was a violation of due process because, due to the Deceased's circumstances, he never received actual notice.

The Deceased was unable to receive the Notice sent to his residence because he was incarcerated at the McIntosh County Detention Center at the time and therefore did not have access to the residence. Id . ¶ 17. While the Notice was purportedly delivered to Joy Bridges[2] at the residence, Bridges could not communicate with the Deceased because, as a part of the terms and conditions of Bridges's bond, Bridges was forbidden from having contact with inmates at the McIntosh County Jail. Id . ¶ 18. Plaintiff alleges that, when the Notice was mailed to the Deceased's residence, Sheriff Jessup "had actual knowledge that the [Deceased] was incarcerated in the McIntosh County Detention Center, which is in the same building in which [the Sheriff] maintains his official offices." Id . ¶ 20.

Additionally, the Complaint alleges that the Deceased was incapable of receiving the notice by publication because, pursuant to a policy of the McIntosh County Sheriff, The Darien News is not permitted in the Deceased's cell block. Id . ¶ 21.

On November 3, 2009, the State of Georgia filed a civil forfeiture action in the Superior Court of McIntosh County. Id . ¶¶ 22-23. In that action, "the State of Georgia alleged that it had initiated administrative forfeiture proceedings to the subject property, and that more than thirty days had elapsed since the second publication of notice of seizures, and further alleg[ed] that no claim had been filed by any owner or interest holder in the defendant property." Id . ¶ 23. In this forfeiture proceeding, the superior court issued an Order of Disposition that provided that the property seized from the Deceased was forfeited to the State of Georgia and issued an Order of Distribution, which distributed the seized property to the McIntosh County Sheriff's Office. Id. at Ex. 7. The property subject to the Order of Disposition included various firearms and ammunition. Id. at Ex. 1.

The Complaint alleges that "until [the Deceased] was released from custody many months later [the Deceased] was never provided with actual notice that the State of Georgia was seeking to have his property forfeited to the state, nor was [the Deceased] given actual notice of the seizure of his property." Id . ¶ 26.

II. Procedural Background

In October 2012, Plaintiff William Lill, as Administrator of Robert Lill's Estate, filed suit against Governor Nathan Deal, the State of Georgia, and Sheriff Steve Jessup. Dkt. No. 1. The Complaint asserted three claims: denial of due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, conversion, and declaratory or injunctive relief. Id . ¶¶ 34-44. By January 2013, all defendants had moved to dismiss the Complaint. Dkt. Nos. 6; 8.

On August 30, 2013, Defendants' motions to dismiss were granted in part and stayed in part. Dkt. No. 17. All claims were dismissed except for the due process claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which seeks to force, through an injunction, Governor Deal and Sheriff Jessup to return seized property. Id. at 7. The filings ...

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