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United States v. $1

United States District Court, D. Nevada

August 12, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff(s),
v.
$1, 000 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY SEIZED FROM INMATE ACCOUNT NUMBER XXXXXX, IN THE NAME OF JOSEPH ROSARIO COPPOLA, Defendant(s).

ORDER

JAMES C. MAHAN, District Judge.

Presently before the court is pro se claimant Joseph Coppola's motion to reopen. (Doc. # 11). The plaintiff, United States, has responded (doc. #12) and Coppola has replied (doc. #13). Coppola seeks to recover $1, 000 seized from his inmate account on March 2, 2004.

This in rem civil forfeiture action arises out of a federal statute, 18 U.S.C. § 981, and is therefore governed by 18 U.S.C. § 983 and the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions (the "Supplemental Rules"). See Supp. R. A(1)(B); 18 U.S.C. § 983 (general rules for civil forfeiture proceedings); United States v. $100, 348.00 in U.S. Currency, 354 F.3d 1110, 1116 (9th Cir. 2004) (citing United States v. 2659 Roundhill Drive, 283 F.3d 1146, 1149 n.2 (9th Cir. 2001).

Supplemental Rule G(5) provides that a person who claims an interest in the defendant property subject to forfeiture must file "a claim in the court where the action is pending." Supp. R. G(5)(a)(I). The claim must identify the property claimed and the claimant, it should state the claimant's interest in the property, be signed by the claimant under penalty of perjury, and it should be served on government counsel. See Supp. R. G(5)(i)(A)-(D). The rule also requires a verified claim to be filed in the court where the forfeiture action is pending prior to filing an answer. See Supp. R. G(5)(b)(answer to complaint must be filed within twenty days after filing claim); see also 18 U.S.C. § 953(a)(4)(B) (same).

A claimant seeking to contest a civil forfeiture must demonstrate both Article III standing and statutory standing. See United States v. One 1985 Cadillac Seville, 866 F.2d 1142, 1148 (9th Cir. 1989). To establish statutory standing, the claimant must comply with the procedural requirements in the Supplemental Rules. See United States v. Real Property Located in Fresno County, 135 F.3d 1312, 1316-17 (9th Cir. 1998). A party who fails to comply with these procedural requirements lacks standing as a party to the action. Id. Thus, to establish standing in a forfeiture case, a claimant must comply with the "most significant" procedural requirement of Supplemental Rule G and file a verified claim. See United States v. $487, 825.00, 484 F.3d 662, 665 (3d Cir. 2007).

The verified claim requirement in Rule G(5) is not a mere procedural technicality. $487, 825.00, 484 F.3d at 665. If the claimant fails to file a verified claim, he does not have standing as a party to the forfeiture action. See United States v. One Dairy Farm, 918 F.2d 310, 311 (1st Cir. 1990). Filing a verified claim is a prerequisite to the right to answer and defend on the merits. Id. Courts have "repeatedly emphasized" that forfeiture claimants must strictly adhere to the filing requirements to perfect standing. $487, 825.00, 484 F.3d at 665. Pursuant to Supplemental Rule G(5), the government may, at any time before trial, move to strike a claim or answer for failure to file a verified claim. See Supp. R. G(8)(c)(i)(A); see also United States v. $38, 570 U.S. Currency, 950 F.2d 1108, 1112-1115 (5th Cir, 1992) (answer properly stricken where claimant filed an untimely claim).

Coppola' motion is denied because he has failed to file a verified claim as required by the supplemental rules. In addition to his lack of standing, Coppola waited nearly ten years after this civil forfeiture proceeding concluded in which to file this motion.

Accordingly,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and DECREED that claimant Joseph Coppola's motion to reopen (doc. #11) be, and the same hereby is, DENIED.


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