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Hoffman v. River

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 8, 2015

DAVID L. HOFFMAN, #28353, Plaintiff,
v.
WOOD RIVER, IL POLICE DEPT., OTIS STEWARD, BRADY GREENE, J. TIMMINS, SGT. SABOLO, and THOMAS E. KOCHAN, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.

Plaintiff David L. Hoffman, a pretrial detainee at the Madison County Jail in Madison County, Illinois, brings this pro se civil rights action against the Wood River Police Department and several of its employees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). Plaintiff claims that Wood River officials violated his constitutional rights on March 11, 2014, by executing a search warrant at his residence while he was gone, seizing his personal property, and seizing a vehicle that he inherited from his father (Doc. 1). Plaintiff seeks monetary damages for the unlawful search and seizure and due process violations that allegedly resulted (Doc. 1, pp. 15-16). He also seeks preservation and return of the property pending the outcome of his criminal case.

Merits Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

This case is now before the Court for preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under Section 1915A, the Court is required to promptly screen prisoner complaints to filter out nonmeritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court is required to dismiss any portion of the complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). When reviewing the allegations in light of this standard, the Court finds that the complaint survives preliminary review.

The Complaint

On March 11, 2014, several officers from the Wood River Police Department executed a search warrant at Plaintiff's residence, which is located at 979 East Acton in Wood River, Illinois (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff was not present during the search. The following property was seized: a Vizio television, a Sanyo television, a Magnavox television, a PlayStation 3, a gold Rolex watch, priceless oil paintings, ten gold coins, clothes, tools, a toolbox, and jumper cables (Doc. 1, p. 8). In addition, Wood River officials seized a 1994 Lincoln Town Car that was registered in the name of Plaintiff's deceased biological father, David M. Hoffman, and parked on a public street (Doc. 1, p. 9).

Following the search of Plaintiff's residence and seizure of this property, multiple felony warrants were issued for Plaintiff's arrest, in connection with his alleged participation in an illegal cannabis growing operation. When Plaintiff learned about the warrants on March 13, 2014, he immediately turned himself in to the Madison County Sheriff's Department. Plaintiff has been detained at the Madison County Jail awaiting the final disposition of his criminal case ever since (Doc. 1, p. 10).

Pertinent to this action, Plaintiff claims that he never received proper notification regarding the seized property, such as an inventory of the items that were taken (Doc. 1, pp. 10, 18-19). His criminal defense attorney repeatedly attempted to obtain this information without success. Although the complaint is far from clear, it appears that Plaintiff eventually secured the information in response to a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request that he submitted on March 10, 2015 (Doc. 1, pp. 12, 29). Documents that appear to be responsive to this request are included with the complaint.

The documentation includes a Notice of Seizure for Forfeiture, which lists the televisions and PlayStation 3, and provides notice of a preliminary hearing on March 27, 2014 (Doc. 1, p. 32). An Affidavit in Support of Forfeiture signed by Officer Brady Greene on March 11, 2014, lists the same property (Doc. 1, pp. 18-19). Officer Greene states that he seized this property from Plaintiff's residence because "Hoffman was charged with participation in an illegal cannabis growing operation[, and] during the execution of a search warrant... had the aforementioned items in his residence, with no valid source of income to acquire said items" (Doc. 1, p. 19). An Illinois State Police Notice and Inventory of Seized Property, signed by the State's Attorney on May 3, 2014, also lists the televisions and PlayStation 3 (Doc. 1, pp. 11, 25, 32).

In addition, the documentation includes a letter from Sergeant Kochan at the Wood River Police Department dated June 23, 2014, to Plaintiff's deceased father at 410 N. Main Street in Earliville, Illinois (Doc. 1, pp. 11, 21, 24). The letter indicates that Plaintiff's father is the title holder and lien holder of the vehicle and notifies him that the vehicle was towed on March 11, 2014. The letter sets forth instructions for reclaiming the vehicle from Trickey's Services, Inc. and warns the owner that failure to take possession of the vehicle within ten days will result in its disposal (Doc. 1, p. 21). In addition, the documentation includes a Certificate of Purchase for the vehicle and a Junking Certificate, both in the name of Trickey's Services, Inc. and dated July 8, 2014 (Doc. 1, pp. 22, 26).

Plaintiff now claims that Defendants Wood River Police Department, Otis Steward (Chief of Police), Brady Greene (Narcotics Detective), J. Timmins (officer), Sabolo (sergeant), and Kochan (sergeant), while acting in their individual and official capacities, violated his rights under the First, Fifth, Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments when executing the search warrant at his residence on March 11, 2014 (Doc. 1, pp. 13). He claims that these individuals also violated his right to equal protection and due process of law in the forfeiture proceedings that were conducted pursuant to the Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act and resulted in the disposal of the motor vehicle. Plaintiff seeks $2.5 million in monetary damages and preservation of all confiscated property pending the outcome of his criminal case (Doc. 1, pp. 15-16).

Based on the allegations, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se complaint into seven counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit.

Count 1: Defendants conducted an unlawful search of Plaintiff's residence while he was not present on March 11, 2014, in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
Count 2: Defendants unlawfully seized personal property from Plaintiff's residence on March 11, 2014, in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
Count 3: Defendants conducted an unlawful search of the Lincoln Town Car that was parked on a public street on March 11, 2014, in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
Count 4: Defendants wrongfully seized the 1994 Lincoln Town Car and its contents on March 11, 2014, in ...

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