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United States v. $167

United States District Court, D. Nevada

July 23, 2014



LARRY R. HICKS, District Judge.

This is a civil forfeiture action. Before the Court is the United States' Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. #11.[1] Claimant Straughn Samuel Gorman ("Gorman") filed a Response (Doc. #19), to which the United States replied (Doc. #22). Also before the Court is Gorman's Motion to Suppress Evidence Pursuant to Supplemental Rule G(8). Doc. #18. The United States filed an Opposition (Doc. #24), to which Gorman replied (Doc. #27).

I. Facts and Procedural History

On January 23, 2013, at approximately 9:27 a.m., Nevada Highway Patrol ("NHP") notified Elko County Sheriffs Office ("ECSO") that NHP had stopped Gorman. Doc. #23, Ex. J, p. 4; Doc. #27-1, Request for Admission No. 18. NHP further notified ESCO that the NHP trooper was releasing Gorman's vehicle, a motorhome, after he was denied consent to search. Id. Thereafter, at approximately 10:20 a.m., ECSO Officer Doug Fisher ("Fisher") observed Gorman's motorhome traveling westbound with the driver's side window obstructed by a window curtain which had been pulled forward. Doc. #12 (Fisher Decl.) ¶3. Fisher followed the motorhome and observed the motorhome drift to the right onto the fog line three times and remain on the fog line each time for at least 400 yards. Id. Fisher also observed that the rear window of the motorhome was obstructed by blinds or curtains which were closed. Id. Based on these observations, Fisher activated the overhead lights on his patrol car in an effort to initiate a stop of the motorhome. Id. at ¶4. He remained behind the motorhome with his overhead lights activated for approximately one mile with no apparent effect on the driver of the motorhome. Id. Thereafter, Fisher moved to the lane left of the motorhome for an additional mile, keeping the overhead lights activated, with no apparent effect on the driver of the motorhome. Id. He then activated his siren in two short bursts, again with no apparent effect on the driver of the motorhome. Id. After moving his patrol car forward to the driver's side window and again activating his siren for two short bursts, the driver stopped the motorhome on the side of the road. Id.

Fisher approached the right side of the motorhome and the driver, Gorman, exited the motorhome. Id. at ¶5. Fisher advised Gorman of the reason for the traffic stop and further advised Gorman of the safety issue caused by the obstructed side window. Id. at ¶6. Gorman responded that he had been pulled over regarding the same issue less than one hour earlier. Id. Gorman also stated that he was traveling to Sacramento to visit his girlfriend and then stated his intention to move to California. Id. He also stated that he had a paddleboard company and other beach activities in Maui. Id. Fisher returned to his patrol car, at which point the evidentiary record becomes contested. Specifically, the parties dispute whether a records check had been initiated and/or completed by the time the canine assessment began. Approximately 12 minutes into the traffic stop, Fisher initiated a canine sniff of the exterior of the motorhome using drug-detection canine "Euros." See Doc. #18, 8:20-21 (Gorman conceding that at approximately 11:45 minutes into the traffic stop, Deputy Fisher initiated a canine sniff of the exterior of the motor home). Euros alerted to the right rear fender and rear cargo area of the motorhome, indicating the presence of the odor of illegal drugs. Doc. #12, ¶7.

Based on the aforementioned circumstances, Fisher applied telephonically for a search warrant from the Justice Court of Elko Township, Elko County, Nevada. Id. at ¶10. A warrant to search the motorhome was issued by Elko County Justice of the Peace Brian Boatman at approximately 11:15 am on January 23, 2013. Id. A search of the motorhome was conducted with the assistance of Euros. Id. at ¶11. During the search, Euros positively alerted to Gorman's backpack, clothes, and blankets, and the overhead storage cabinets above the master bed. Id. The search of the interior of the motorhome yielded the discovery of the Defendant currency. Id. at ¶12. The search also yielded the discovery of fifteen "pay/owe" sheets, a Google map printout showing driving directions from Milton, Delaware to Garberville, California, a prescription inhaler containing Proventil with a prescription label designating "Ryan Cavalear" as the patient, two large empty canvas duffle-type bags, and a large hard-sided storage "Pelican" case. Id. at ¶¶13-16.

On June 17, 2013, the United States filed a Complaint in Forfeiture In Rem. Doc. #1. On February 18, 2014, the United States filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. #11. Thereafter, Gorman filed the present Motion to Suppress. Doc. #18.

II. Legal Standard

A. Motion to Suppress

Rule G(8)(a) of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions provides that "[i]f the defendant property was seized, a party with standing to contest the lawfulness of the seizure may move to suppress use of the property as evidence." A motion to suppress brought by a claimant in a civil forfeiture proceeding is akin to one brought by a defendant in a criminal case. See One 1958 Plymouth Sedan v. Pa., 380 U.S. 693, 696-702 (1965) (holding that the Fourth Amendment is applicable to forfeiture proceedings); see also Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000, 18 U.S.C. § 981(b)(2)(B) (requiring that seizures be made pursuant to a warrant or based upon probable cause and pursuant to a lawful arrest or search). As such, the exclusionary rule applies in civil forfeiture cases. One 1958 Plymouth Sedan, 380 U.S. at 702; United States. v. $493, 850.00 in U.S. Currency, 518 F.3d 1159, 1164 (9th Cir. 2008). The rule "bars the admission of evidence obtained in violation of the U.S. Constitution, as well as fruits of the poisonous tree.'" $493, 850.00 in U.S. Currency, 518 F.3d at 1164 (quoting United States v. Ramirez-Sandoval, 872 F.2d 1392, 1395 (9th Cir. 1989)). "[U]nder the fruits of the poisonous tree' doctrine, evidence obtained subsequent to a violation of the Fourth Amendment is tainted by the illegality and is inadmissible...." Id. at 1164-65 (quoting United States v. Washington, 490 F.3d 765, 774 (9th Cir. 2007)).

B. Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate only when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, and other materials in the record show that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In assessing a motion for summary judgment, the evidence, together with all inferences that can reasonably be drawn therefrom, must be read in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Cnty. of Tuolumne v. Sonora Cmty. Hosp., 236 F.3d 1148, 1154 (9th Cir. 2001).

The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion, along with evidence showing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). On those issues for which it bears the burden of proof, the moving party must make a showing that is "sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party." Calderone v. United States, 799 F.2d 254, 259 (6th Cir. 1986); see also Idema v. Dreamworks, Inc., 162 F.Supp.2d 1129, 1141 (C.D. Cal. 2001). On an issue as to which the non-moving party has the burden of proof, however, the moving party can prevail merely by demonstrating that there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-moving party's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

To successfully rebut a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must point to facts supported by the record which demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact. Reese v. Jefferson Sch. Dist. No. 14J, 208 F.3d 736 (9th Cir. 2000). A "material fact" is a fact "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Where reasonable minds could differ on the material facts at issue, summary judgment is not appropriate. See v. Durang, 711 F.2d 141, 143 (9th Cir. 1983). A dispute regarding a material fact is considered genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248. The mere existence of a ...

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