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United States v. $184

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

June 15, 2018

$184, 980.00 IN U.S. CURRENCY, First-Named Claimant's Property, JAMES E. MAXWELL, Claimant.



         Before the Court is pro se Claimant James E. Maxwell's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 26] the Government's forfeiture claim against the seized currency.[1] For the following reasons, Claimant's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 26] is DENIED. Additionally, based on this Court's discretion, Claimant's Motion to Stay Discovery [Doc. 40] is DENIED, and his Motion to Strike [Doc. 38] is DENIED as moot.


         A. Government's Complaint.

         The Court takes the following facts from the Government's Complaint [Doc. 2] as true for purposes of ruling on Claimant's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 26]. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 572 (2007). In early 2014, federal investigations began concerning large transfers of money from Macon, Georgia, to Houston, Texas, and northern California. [Doc. 2 at ¶ 12]. This investigation led federal law enforcement to identify Claimant James E. Maxwell, Jr. as potentially involved in the distribution of controlled substances. [Doc. 2 at ¶ 13].

         On October 12, 2014, at the direction of the Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and as part of the ongoing investigation, Corporal Jay Thompson pulled over Claimant James E. Maxwell, Jr., a passenger in the vehicle, and his driver, Maurice Dillard. [Doc. 2 at ¶¶ 12-15]. Corporal Thompson noted that Dillard seemed uncomfortable, trembled, and repeatedly said “umm” during the stop. [Id. at ¶ 17]. As Cpl. Thompson issued him a warning citation, Dillard gave consent to search the vehicle. [Id. at ¶ 20].

         Corporal Thompson then informed Claimant that Dillard gave consent to search the vehicle and asked Claimant if he had any drugs, weapons, or currency in the vehicle. [Id. at ¶ 20]. Claimant told Cpl. Thompson he had about $150, 000.00 in cash, and he did not consent to a search of his belongings. [Id. at ¶ 21]. Corporal Thompson removed Claimant's belongings before searching the vehicle, but Senior Trooper First Class John Morris, who Cpl. Thompson called for backup, conducted a free air sweep of Claimant's belongings with a K-9 trained to detect narcotics. [Doc. 2 at ¶¶ 19, 22]. After the K-9 gave a positive alert to Claimant's luggage, S/TFC Morris and Cpl. Thompson searched Claimant's belongings and seized $184, 980.00 in suspected “money furnished or intended to be furnished in exchange for a controlled substance.” [Id. at ¶¶ 23, 34].

         Additionally, on December 15, 2016, Government brought against the Claimant a superseding information, charging him with Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana. [Doc. 29 at 9]. Subsequently, Claimant plead guilty to the counts in the superseding information. [Id.; Doc. 34 at 2]. Based on this agreement, Clamant is currently incarcerated at the Federal Correction Institute in Edgefield, South Carolina. [Doc. 26-1 at 6].


         The Government now seeks forfeiture of the currency seized during the stop. Claimant moves to dismiss the Government's forfeiture claims on two grounds. [Doc. 26]. First, Claimant contends this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the Government failed to establish in rem jurisdiction over the property in this case. [Doc. 26-1, at 3]. Second, Claimant alleges the state trooper's search and seizure of his property violated his Fourth Amendment rights, which he contends entitles him to dismissal of this case.

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction and In Rem Jurisdiction

         As to his first argument for dismissal, Claimant misconstrues the relationship between subject matter jurisdiction and in rem jurisdiction. To hear this case, the Court must possess both subject matter jurisdiction over the forfeiture issue and exclusive in rem jurisdiction over the property. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and only have authority over certain types of cases. Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 256 (2013). Under 28 U.S.C. §1355(a), “the district courts shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of any action or proceeding for the recovery or enforcement of any . . . forfeiture . . . incurred under any Act of Congress.” Thus, federal district courts have subject matter jurisdiction over all forfeiture actions brought under federal law. Because the Government brings this forfeiture claim under the federal Controlled Substance Act, 21 U.S.C. § 801, this Court has subject matter jurisdiction.

         This Court also has in rem jurisdiction over the subject property in this case. Only one court, either the state or the federal court, can have in rem jurisdiction over the property at a time. See United States v. $270, 000.00 in U.S. Currency, Plus Interest, 1 F.3d 1146, 1148 (11th Cir. 1993). To establish in rem jurisdiction in forfeiture proceedings, the court must have actual or constructive control over the property. U.S. v. James Daniel Good Real Property, 510 U.S. 43, 57 (1993).

         Claimant contends the state court has in rem jurisdiction in this case because state officers seized the property. Indeed, some state statutes automatically grant in rem jurisdiction to state courts when state officers seize the forfeited property. See, e.g., Scarabin v. Drug Enforcement Admin., 966 F.2d 989, 991 (5th Cir. 1992) (applying Louisiana law). In those states, the federal government must seek and obtain a turnover order from state courts for federal courts to have in rem jurisdiction. However, Georgia's Code contains ...

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