from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Ohio at Cleveland. No. 1:16-cv-01581-Patricia A.
Gaughan, District Judge.
R. Willis, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellants.
Phillip J. Tripi, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE,
Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee.
Before: COLE, Chief Judge; BATCHELDER and MOORE, Circuit
M. BATCHELDER, CIRCUIT JUDGE
federal law governing civil in rem forfeiture actions gives
the government authority to seize items it suspects were used
in furtherance of criminal activity and to commence civil in
rem proceedings against the property without charging the
property's owner with a crime. See United States v.
Seventeen Thousand Nine Hundred Dollars ($17, 900.00) in U.S.
Currency, 859 F.3d 1085, 1087 (D.C. Cir. 2017)
(explaining the practice of civil forfeiture); see also
Leonard v. Texas, 137 S.Ct. 847, 848-49 (2017) (Thomas,
J.) (statement respecting the denial of certiorari)
(describing some abuses in the administration of civil
forfeiture laws in the United States and questioning the
constitutionality of such laws). Federal agents and entities
have significant latitude to pursue these claims, from
special discovery provisions written into the governing rules
to a burden of proof that is lower than required in standard
criminal cases. But this latitude has its limits, and this
case requires us to define some of these limits. The district
court granted the government's motion to strike Taiwan
Wiggins's and Dalante Allison's claims to currency
seized from each man at the Cleveland Hopkins International
Airport. Each man's claim asserted that he owned the
currency that had been taken from his suitcase. The district
court recited the facts as alleged by the government, found
that each claim presented "nothing more than a naked
assertion of ownership, " and held that, under Sixth
Circuit precedent, Wiggins and Allison lacked the standing
necessary to pursue their claims.
ways, this civil forfeiture action looks routine, for federal
courts have developed well-settled principles concerning a
forfeiture claimant's need to demonstrate both Article
III and statutory standing. But this case comes to us in a
procedural posture unlike most civil forfeiture actions-the
government apparently moved to dismiss the claim before it
engaged in any discovery. Its basic argument before the
district court and on appeal is that the claimant's
pleadings must do more than assert a bare ownership in the
res that is subject to forfeiture, and that the
claimant's pleadings must provide the government
sufficient detail to draft interrogatories allowing it to
test the claimant's claim of ownership. As we will
explain, the procedural rules governing civil forfeiture
actions do not demand such a heightened standard.
Accordingly, we REVERSE the district court's order
granting the government's motion to strike the claim and
REMAND for further proceedings.
parties dispute most of the facts underlying this action. We
begin where they find common agreement, drawing these details
from the pleadings. On February 24, 2016, Taiwan Wiggins and
Dalante Allison (together, "claimants") were each
at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport for a flight
to Orange County, California. The Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) was aware of the claimants'
itineraries and that each had previous felony drug
convictions. The DEA observed them at the airport engaging in
conversation before they walked together toward the security
checkpoint. Beyond this, the government's complaint and
the claimants' answers and claims tell very different
government alleges that Wiggins spoke voluntarily with a DEA
agent who had approached him after he passed through airport
security. Wiggins stated that he owned a company named
"Wiggins Cleaning, " but he could name only one
client of his cleaning and construction services, "Mike
and Mike." A DEA agent asked if Wiggins was carrying any
bulk currency, and Wiggins told the agents that he had $2,
000 in a shoe in his bag. After Wiggins consented to a
search, the agents found $31, 000 hidden in the lining of his
suitcase. He could not answer why he was traveling with that
sum of money and, at some point, said it was earnings from
Wiggins Cleaning. He seemed to be startled at the agents'
discovery, claimed to be traveling alone, and denied knowing
answer, Wiggins denied these facts. He specifically stated
that neither his discussion with the DEA agent nor the search
of his suitcase was consensual.
government alleges that while the DEA questioned Wiggins,
Allison walked by, glaring at the agents. He joined a long
line at Starbucks a mere ten minutes before his scheduled
flight time and quickly jumped out of line when the gate
agent paged him. He rushed down the jet way, but a Homeland
Security Investigations agent asked the gate agent to ask
Allison to come back up the jet way to speak with him.
Allison voluntarily spoke with agents, acknowledged that he
was carrying currency, and agreed to wait for a DEA agent who
had been speaking with other passengers. When the DEA agent
approached him, he agreed to speak to him and consented to a
search of his carry-on luggage. The agent found $10, 000 in
currency in a sock. Allison stated that he had won the money
at a casino but could not provide details about the date when
he had won it or the casino where he had played. He also
stated that his employer was "Jay's Cleaning
Service, " that he earned $35, 000 annually, that he
filed taxes annually, that he was travelling alone, and that
he did not know Wiggins.
Wiggins, Allison filed an answer denying the relevant
allegations by the government. He admits that he possessed
$10, 000, but he denies that he consented to the search of
his carry-on luggage.
Additional Factual Background
the claimants allegedly allowed the DEA to search their bags,
a canine alerted to the odor of narcotics on "the
separate boxes containing each of the defendant
currencies." The government thereafter seized the funds.
In its complaint, the government further alleges that the DEA
could not locate business filings for Jay's Cleaning,
Wiggins Cleaning, or Mike and Mike, and that neither claimant
filed state income tax returns for 2011-2015. Finally, the
government alleges that the defendant currencies were
forfeitable pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6), as
proceeds traceable to drug trafficking activities or that
were used or intended to be used to facilitate
drug-trafficking in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§
denies the allegations concerning the drug-sniffing dog and
the lack of business filings for the three companies. Both
Allison and Wiggins deny that they failed to pay
taxes and that the funds were forfeitable.
government filed its civil in rem forfeiture complaint on
June 23, 2016, naming as defendants $31, 000 in U.S. Currency
and $10, 000 in U.S. Currency. In response, Wiggins and
Allison filed verified claims on July 6, 2016. Wiggins
asserted an ownership interest in defendant $31, 000 in U.S.
Currency, and Allison did the same for defendant $10, 000 in
U.S. Currency. Beyond this difference, the two claims are
substantially the same; in both, the claimants assert that
the DEA conducted "a warrantless arrest and a
warrantless search and seizure [in] the absence of probable
cause." In addition, each alleged that "this Claim
is further based on the indisputable fact that as the person
who is the sole and absolute owner, and who was in exclusive
possession of the monies, I was victimized by an illegal
arrest and I was victimized by the illegal seizure of the
funds here ...