The opinion of the court was delivered by: MILTON I. SHADUR
This proposed drug-related forfeiture of a mobile home poses, at least so far as reported cases are concerned, a question of first impression anywhere. Both the United States and claimant Mark Stover ("Stover")
have moved for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56,
coupling their motions with the required statements under this District Court's General Rule ("GR") 12(m)
as well as supporting memoranda. Each party has responded to the other's submission, and the case is ripe for decision. For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, the United States' motion is granted, Stover's is denied, and the mobile home is ordered forfeited.
On January 15, 1991 18-year-old Stover, then living in the mobile home at its permanent location at 290 Susan Circle, Park City, Illinois, was the target of a raid of his residence carried out by Lake County and other drug enforcement agents pursuant to a validly-obtained search warrant. Two of Stover's friends were with him at the time. When the agents searched the mobile home, they found something over a half ounce of marijuana (16.19 grams) floating in a toilet, as well as a host of other items reflecting drug-related activity: four live growing green plants later identified (and testing positive) as cannabis or marijuana, several dried plants and plant parts later identified (and testing positive) in the same way, a notebook containing records of drug transactions, cannabis smoking paraphernalia, photographs of cannabis plants, cannabis publications, a portable weighing scale, empty plastic bags and a heat sealer used to seal plastic bags, and some .22 caliber ammunition.
Stover was arrested and was then made the subject of drug charges in the Circuit Court of Lake County. Those charges resulted in his March 4, 1991 plea of guilty to a felony crime of possession of between 10 and 30 grams of marijuana with intent to deliver.
So much then for the underlying predicate for the proposed forfeiture. To shift to the target of that forfeiture, Stover had purchased the mobile home some months before (in late July 1990) for $ 29,000 cash.
As is often the case with such residences, "mobile" is more of a euphemism than "home": Stover bought the two-bedroom two-bath residence in place (mounted on concrete blocks and with all utilities hooked up) on a lot in a "mobile home park"--it was one of a group of what Stover estimated during his deposition as 200 such homes in the same area.
Like the former owners who sold the mobile home to Stover, he leases the lot on which it is located. There are an associated wood deck and woodshed located in the lot close by the mobile home itself, and the mobile home is fully equipped with the full set of conventional home appliances, which are hooked up to the utilities provided to the lot and hence to the mobile home itself.
Still on the subject of "mobility" (or perhaps more accurately the lack of it), any removal of the mobile home would entail cutting the "tie-downs" (those are wires that anchor the four corners of the mobile home to its location atop the concrete blocks), oiling the axles so that they would be available for use in its transportation, jacking up the mobile home to put the wheels under it, attaching a front hitch and then hooking the mobile home to a truck of some kind to enable it to be pulled away.
During the period of more than a year that elapsed between Stover's acquisition of the mobile home and his October 11, 1991 deposition in this case, he knew of no one having moved into the mobile home park, and he had become familiar with the intricacies of removing and transporting such mobile homes by having observed the only owner whom he was aware of as having left the park in that period. If anyone were to move the mobile home, the process of transporting its oversize load on a highway (as the caption of this case indicates, the mobile home is about 14 feet wide and 70 feet long--nearly 1,000 square feet in size) would of course require not only a vehicle to accomplish the tow but a special permit for highway hauling.
Forfeiture of the Mobile Home
Obviously uncertain whether to label the mobile home as animal, vegetable or mineral, the United States resorts to alternative pleading--thus essentially saying that the mobile home has to fit one of three subsections of the 21 U.S.C. § 881
forfeiture statute (though the United States may not know just which one): Section 881(a)(3), (4) or (7). Here are the relevant provisions:
(a) The following shall be subject to forfeiture to the United States and no property right shall exist in them:
(1) All controlled substances which have been manufactured, distributed, dispensed, or acquired in violation of this subchapter.
(2) All raw materials, products, and equipment of any kind which are used, or intended for use, in manufacturing, compounding, processing, delivering, importing, or exporting any controlled substance in violation of this subchapter.
(3) All property which is used, or intended for use, as a container for property described in paragraph (1), (2), or (9).
(4) All conveyances, including aircraft, vehicles, or vessels, which are used, or are intended for use, to transport, or in any manner to facilitate the transportation, sale, receipt, possession, or concealment of property described in paragraph ...