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United States v. Funds in the Amount of Forty-Five Thousand Fifty Dollars

August 9, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


The United States filed this action seeking forfeiture of $45,050 in currency seized from an Amtrak train passenger in June 2006. Jason Haltiwanger and his attorney, Steven Komie (hereinafter, "Claimants"), move to dismiss the government's complaint for failure to meet the heightened standards required in pleading a civil forfeiture action.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.


On June 14, 2006, Federal Drug Enforcement Agency agents at Amtrak Union Station in Chicago conducted a routine review of Amtrak's computerized travel manifest. (Complaint ¶ 6.) During their review, officers saw that on June 13, 2006, an individual named Jason Haltiwanger had paid cash for a one-way ticket from Boston, Massachusetts, via Albany, New York and Chicago, to Austin, Texas. (Id.) The train was scheduled for departure on June 14. (Id.)

At approximately 2:50 p.m. on June 14, officers boarded the train on which Haltiwanger was a passenger in Chicago. (Complaint ¶ 7.) The officers identified themselves to Haltiwanger as federal agents and received Haltiwanger's permission to interview him. (Id.) Haltiwanger informed the agents that he was carrying $30,000 in cash and that he was a construction contractor traveling to Austin, Texas to purchase property. (Id.) Haltiwanger also gave the agents permission to search the carry-on luggage located in his compartment. (Complaint ¶ 8.)

Inside Haltiwanger's luggage, agents discovered a plastic bag that contained two paper bags filled with United States currency. (Id.) While he was still on the train, Haltiwanger told agents that the cash had been withdrawn from his bank account. (Id.) After the search, Haltiwanger was taken to the DEA office in Union Station and interviewed again. (Complaint ¶ 9.) During this interview, Haltiwanger again asserted that the currency was to be used to purchase property. (Id.)

At some point during these events, DEA agents brought a DEA canine named Rudy to "the location."*fn2 (Complaint ¶ 10.) Rudy has been trained to detect cannabis, cocaine, hashish and heroin. (Id.) He has performed more than twenty narcotics searches and is certified annually by the DEA. (Id.) At the time he inspected Haltiwanger's luggage, Rudy had last been certified on February 2, 2006. (Id.) Once he was brought to the "location," Rudy reacted positively to the currency contained in Haltiwanger's carry-on luggage. (Id.)

Agents subsequently seized $45,050 in $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills from Haltiwanger's carry-on luggage. (Complaint ¶ 11.) On December 15, 2006, the government filed this action for forfeiture, asserting there is probable cause to believe that the funds were furnished and intended to be furnished in exchange for a controlled substance, are the proceeds from the sale of a controlled substance, and were monies used and intended to be used to facilitate narcotics trafficking, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq., and are therefore subject to forfeiture and condemnation pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6). (Complaint ¶ 12.) Haltiwanger and his attorney now move to dismiss the government's complaint, claiming that the government has failed to state a cause of action for forfeiture.


1. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Under traditional "notice pleading" standards, a complaint "need only 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007)). Claimants here contend, however, that the complaint should be tested not against notice pleading standards, but rather by the heightened pleading standards applicable to civil forfeiture claims. (Claimants' Motion to Dismiss (hereinafter "Motion to Dismiss") ¶¶ 1, 6.) They further contend that the government has not adequately pleaded a claim of forfeiture under these standards, which are set forth below.

2. Pleading Standard for Forfeiture Claims

The relevant statute, 21 U.S.C. § 881, provides that money which is "furnished by any person in exchange for a controlled substance," money which is "traceable to such an exchange," or money which is "used or intended to be used to facilitate a violation of this subchapter"*fn3 is subject to forfeiture. See 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6). In an action for civil forfeiture, "the burden of proof is on the Government to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the property is subject to forfeiture. "Civil Action Forfeiture Act of 2000 (hereinafter "CAFRA"), 18 U.S.C. § 983(c)(1). Courts have held that CAFRA's "preponderance of the evidence" standard has replaced the "probable cause" standard adhered to in pre-CAFRA cases. See, e.g., United States v. Funds in the Amount of Thirty Thousand Six Hundred Seventy Dollars, 403 F.3d 448, 454 n.4 (7th Cir. 2005). In addition, "if the Government's theory of forfeiture is that the property was used to commit or facilitate the commission of a criminal offense or was involved in the commission of a criminal offense, the government shall establish that there was a substantial connection between the property and the offense." 18 U.S.C. § 983(c)(3).

In pleading a civil action for forfeiture, "the Government shall file a complaint for forfeiture in the manner set forth in the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims . . ." See 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(3)(A). See also 21 U.S.C. § 881(b). Rule G of these Supplemental Rules requires that a civil forfeiture complaint must: (a) be verified; (b) state the grounds for subject-matter jurisdiction, in rem jurisdiction over the defendant property, and venue; (c) describe the property with reasonable particularity; (d) if the property is tangible, state its location when any seizure occurred and-if different-its location when the action is filed; (e) identify the statute under which the forfeiture action is brought; and (f) state sufficiently detailed facts to support a reasonable belief that the government will be able to meet its burden of proof at trial. Supplemental Rule G(2)(a-f); see also Supplemental Rule E(2)(a) ("the complaint shall state the circumstances from which the claim arises with such particularity that the defendant or claimant will be able, without moving for a more definite statement, to commence an investigation of the facts and ...

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