United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
T. TREADWELL, JUDGE.
Government has moved to strike the responsive pleadings of
pro se claimant Kenna Middleton and for issuance of a final
order of forfeiture. Doc. 40. The motion (Doc. 40) is
January 2014, the United States Department of Justice, Drug
Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), as well as
other law enforcement agencies, initiated an investigation
involving large quantities of cash being deposited in branch
banks located in the Macon, Georgia area and being rapidly
withdrawn from branch banks located in the Houston, Texas and
Northern California areas. Doc. ¶ 8. The investigation
revealed that Ira Christopher Jackson traveled between Texas,
Georgia, and California to manage a marijuana distribution
organization, using the United States Postal Service, Federal
Express, or United Postal Service to ship controlled
substances from Texas and California to Georgia. Id.
¶ 10. The investigation further revealed that others
were also allegedly involved with the distribution of
controlled substances, including Kenna Middleton, the
claimant in this case. Id. ¶ 9.
October 31, 2014, as a part of the investigation, law
enforcement agents and officers executed a federal search
warrant at 4026 Meadowbrook Drive, Macon, Georgia, 31204,
which was occupied by the claimant. Id. ¶ 11.
During the search, the agents and officers found
approximately 5, 400.9 gross grams of high-grade marijuana,
drug packaging and shipping materials, scales, a money
counter, computers, cellular telephones, miscellaneous
documents, three firearms, ammunition, and $44, 936.00 in
United States currency. Id. ¶ 12. The claimant
was arrested on State of Georgia charges for possession with
intent to distribute marijuana and possession of firearms by
a convicted felon. Id. ¶ 13.
September 9, 2015, the claimant and 30 other individuals were
indicted on various counts regarding the distribution of
controlled substances. United States v. Maxwell, et
al., No. 5:15-cr-35, Doc. 1 (M.D. Ga. Sept. 9, 2015).
The claimant pleaded guilty to count one of the
Indictment-conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute
marijuana-and was sentenced to thirty-three months of
imprisonment. Id. at Docs. 606; 607; 965.
Specifically, in his plea agreement, the claimant stipulated
that the Government could prove beyond a reasonable doubt
that in October 2014, law enforcement agents executed a
search warrant at the claimant's residence located at
4026 Meadowbrook Drive in Macon, Georgia, and that during the
search, the agents “found $44, 000.00 in drug proceeds,
three firearms, ammunition and 5, 400 gram[s] of
marijuana.” Id. at Doc. 606 at 9.
20, 2015, before the claimant was indicted, the Government
filed a complaint for forfeiture in rem against $44, 936.00
in United States currency (“Defendant Property”)
pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6). Doc. 1 ¶ 1. The
Government alleges Defendant Property constitutes money
furnished or intended to be furnished in exchange for a
controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 801,
constitutes proceeds traceable to such an exchange, and/or
constitutes money used or intended to be used to facilitate a
violation of the Controlled Substances Act. Id.
¶ 15. Defendant Property was seized from the claimant on
October 31, 2014 and is currently in the custody of the
United States Marshals Service. Id. ¶ 2. Once
Defendant Property was seized, the DEA initiated
administrative forfeiture proceedings. Id. ¶ 6.
Notwithstanding his admission that the money was proceeds of
drug activity, the claimant filed a claim for Defendant
Property with the DEA, and the DEA referred the matter to the
United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.
receiving notice of the judicial forfeiture proceedings and
the Government's complaint, the claimant, who is
currently in custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, filed
what the Court construed as his responsive pleadings. Docs.
8; 9; 10; 19. The parties then engaged in discovery, at least
initially. The claimant filed with the Court his responses to
the Government's special interrogatories. Doc. 20. In
those responses, the claimant asked the Government to clarify
more than half of the special interrogatories, noting the
interrogatories “fall outside the scope of the Rule
[G(6)].” Id. The Government states it sent a
discovery letter to the claimant that provided clarification
as to the purpose of each of the special interrogatories but
did not receive any supplemental response from the claimant.
Doc. 28-1 at 2.
December 17, 2018, the Government moved to compel discovery
responses, arguing that the claimant received the
Government's first set of interrogatories and request for
production of documents but did not respond to those
requests, despite the Government's good faith effort to
confer and resolve the discovery issues. Id. at 4.
And despite receiving the Court's notice of the motion to
compel, the claimant did not respond to the Government's
motion. Doc. 29.
January 31, 2019, the Court granted the Government's
motion to compel discovery responses (Doc. 28) and ordered
the claimant to provide full and complete responses to the
Government's request for production of documents and
special interrogatories by February 14, 2019. Doc. 38. The
Court noted that the failure to comply with the order would
result in dismissal of the claimant's responsive
pleadings. Id. As of February 19, 2019, the
Government states it still has not received from the claimant
written responses to its first set of interrogatories and
request for production of documents, nor has it received
supplements to the special interrogatories. Doc. 40-1 at 10.
Accordingly, the Government has moved under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 37 to strike the claimant's responsive
pleadings and for issuance of a final order of forfeiture.
to Rule 37, if a party fails to cooperate in discovery or
obey an order to provide or permit discovery, the Court may
impose sanctions. Phipps v. Blakeney, 8 F.3d 788,
790 (11th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted) (“The district
court has broad discretion to control discovery. This power
includes the ability to impose sanctions on uncooperative
litigants.”). These sanctions include striking
pleadings, dismissing the action or proceeding, and rendering
a default judgment against the disobedient party.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A)(iii), (v)-(vi). While the sanction
of dismissal is extreme, the court has “discretion to
dismiss a complaint where the party's conduct amounts to
flagrant disregard and willful disobedience of the
court's discovery orders.” Buchanan v.
Bowman, 820 F.2d 359, 361 (11th Cir. 1987) (quotation
marks and citation omitted).
the claimant flagrantly disregarded and willfully disobeyed
the Court's discovery order compelling him to submit
responses to the Government's discovery requests. The
Court provided the claimant notice of the Government's
motion to compel, gave him multiple opportunities to respond
to the Government's discovery requests, and warned him
that the failure to comply with the Court's discovery
order would result in dismissal of his responsive pleadings.
Nevertheless, the claimant still failed to provide responses
to the Government's discovery requests. The record makes
clear the claimant had no intention of responding to the
Government or to the Court, and no lesser sanction than
dismissal would likely change the claimant's behavior or
convey the message to the claimant that discovery orders
“must be obeyed.” United States v. $239, 500
in U.S. Currency, 764 F.2d 771, 773 (11th Cir. 1985)
(holding the district court did not err in dismissing the
claimants' claims and forfeiting defendant $239, 500.00
to the government because the claimants disobeyed the
court's order); see also Malautea v. Suzuki Motor
Co., 987 F.2d 1536, 1544 (11th Cir. 1993) (noting a
lesser sanction than default judgment is not required when it
would be ineffective).