United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
June 18, 2015
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
$8, 896.00 in U.S. CURRENCY, Defendant.
RANDAL HALL, District Judge.
Presently pending before the Court is the Government's Motion for Default Judgment. (Doc. 8.) For the following reasons, this motion is GRANTED.
On November 22, 2013, the Government filed a Verified Complaint for forfeiture in rem against $8, 896.00 in U.S. Currency ("the Defendant Currency"). (Doc. 1, Compl.) The Complaint alleges that the Defendant Currency is subject to forfeiture pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) because it constitutes (1) money furnished or intended to be furnished in exchange for a controlled substance, (2) proceeds traceable to such an exchange, and/or (3) money used or intended to be used to facilitate a violation of the Controlled Substances Act. (Id. ¶ 2.)
On November 29, 2013, the Government served Sheron Jenkins, James Ferguson, David Pickney, Jr., and Travis Jermaine Ferguson with the Verified Complaint for Forfeiture In Rem and a warrant for arrest. (Doc. 3.) Additionally, the Government published the notice of forfeiture on its official website (www.forfeiture.gov) for thirty consecutive days beginning on December 13, 2013. (Doc. 4.) To date, no person has filed an answer to the Complaint or a claim to the Defendant Currency in this action.
On February 20, 2015, the Government moved the Clerk of the Court to enter default and supported its motion with an affidavit. (Doc. 6, Ex. 1.) On February 25, 2015, the Clerk entered default. (Doc. 7.) The Government now moves the Court to enter a default judgment and final order of forfeiture against the Defendant Currency and any potential claimants. (Doc. 8.) The Government sent notice to Sheron Jenkins, James Ferguson, David Pickney, Jr., and Travis Jermaine Ferguson of the pending motion for default judgment. (Doc. 9.)
"Obtaining a default judgment is a two-step process: first, the plaintiff must seek an entry of default from the clerk of court; and second, after the clerk has made an entry of default, the plaintiff can seek a default judgment." U.S. v. $11, 000.00 in U.S. Funds, No. 5:08-CV-102, 2009 WL 198013, at *2 (M.D. Ga. Jan. 27, 2009) (citing FED. R. Civ. P. 55). "An entry of default and subsequent entry of default judgment are appropriate '[w]hen a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend.'" Id. (quoting FED. R. Cpl. P. 55(a)) (alteration in original).
Where - as here - the Government brings a civil forfeiture action in rem which arises from a federal statute, it must comply with Supplemental Rule G of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty and Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions. See FED. R. Civ. P., SUPP. R. G(1) ("This Rule governs a forfeiture action in rem arising from a federal statute."); see also, e.g., $11, 000.00 in U.S. Funds, 2009 WL 198013, at *2.
Based upon the facts currently before the Court, the Government appears to have fully complied with Supplemental Rule G. First, the Complaint was proper under Supplemental Rule G(2) because it was (a) verified, (b) stated the grounds for subject-matter jurisdiction and venue, (c) described the property with reasonable particularity, (d) stated the location of the property when it was seized and when the action was filed, (e) identified the federal statute under which the forfeiture action was brought, and (f) stated sufficiently detailed facts to support a reasonable belief that the Government will be able to meet its burden of proof at trial. (See Compl.)
Second, the Government complied with Supplemental Rule G(4)'s notice requirements. The Government sent a notice of forfeiture and a copy of the Verified Complaint to potential claimants Travis Ferguson, Sheron Jenkins, James Ferguson, and David Pickney, Jr. See FED. R. Civ. P., SUPP. R. G(4) (b) (i), (iii) ("The government must send notice of the action and a copy of the complaint to any person who reasonably appears to be a potential claimant" and "notice must be sent by means reasonably calculated to reach the potential claimant."). The Government also published the notice of forfeiture on its official website for thirty consecutive days, which satisfied the publication requirement under Rule G(4) (a)(i) and (iv)(C).
Supplemental Rule G(5) provides that a "person who asserts an interest in the defendant property may contest the forfeiture by filing a claim in the court where the action is pending" within thirty-five days from the date direct notice is sent or, if direct notice was not sent to the claimant, within sixty days after the first date of publication on the Government's official website. See FED. R. Civ. P., SUPP. R. G(5)(a)(i), (ii). Once a claimant has filed a claim to the seized property, the claimant must also serve and file an answer to the forfeiture complaint within twenty-one days after filing the claim. See FED. R. Civ. P., SUPP. R. G(5) (b).
Here, neither a claim nor an answer has been filed, and the time for filing has expired. This failure to plead or otherwise defend the action warrants the entry of a default judgment against all potential claimants to the Defendant Currency pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55.
For the reasons stated above, the Government's Motion for Default Judgment and Motion for Final Order of Forfeiture and Distribution (doc. 8) are hereby GRANTED. All rights, title, and interest in the Defendant Currency is hereby forfeited to and vested in the United States, which shall have clear title to this property, may warrant good title to any subsequent transferee, and shall dispose of the property in accordance with the law. The Clerk is DIRECTED to enter judgment in favor of Plaintiff, TERMINATE all deadlines and motions, and CLOSE this case.