United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division
DARROW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court are the United States' (“the
Government”) Motion to Strike Claim Filed by Willie
Jackson and For Entry of Default, ECF No. 42, the
Government's Motion to Strike Claim Filed by Jaquan Jones
and For Entry of Default, ECF No. 44, and the
Government's Motion to Dismiss One Seized Dog as
Defendant, ECF No. 46.
April 14, 2016, the United States Marshals seized sixty-four
pit-bull type dogs as a result of an investigation into a
dog-fighting operation. The Marshals seized dogs from the
residences of Willie Jackson and Jaquan Jones. In the course
of the investigation, Jackson admitted that he hosted test
matches between dogs in the basement at his home in Rock
Island. Mot. Strike Jackson's Claim 3. Additionally,
Jones admitted to attending and videotaping matches and
training of dogs for fighting. Mot. Strike Jones' Claim
Jackson filed a Claim, ECF No. 12, on Friday, May 13, 2016,
requesting the “return of . . . 2 Staffordshire pit
bull terriers that were seized” in relation to this
case. The defendant dogs seized from the residence are
identified as one adult male, IL5B01, and a young female dog,
IL5B02. Mot. Strike Jackson's Claim 2. The Claim was not
verified by oath or affirmation, nor was it served on the
appropriate attorney for the United States. Id.
Jackson did not file an answer.
10, 2016, Jaquan Jones filed a claim seeking to have one
adult male pitbull dog, identified by the Government as
IL6A01, returned to his family, as well as a variety of dog
accessories (leash, harness, kennel) and electronics. Jones
Claim, ECF No. 10. Jones noted in his claim that the dog was
a gift to his mother. Id. Subsequently, on Friday,
May 20, 2016, Tara Dent, Jones' mother, filed a verified
claim that the dog was her sole property and was not involved
with dogfighting. Dent Claim, ECF No. 17. Dent has since
filed a Petition to Withdraw Claim on the dog, releasing any
and all claims regarding the seizure and forfeiting her
interest in the dog. Mot. Dismiss One Dog Ex. A, ECF No.
46-1. Neither Jones nor Dent filed an answer.
Jones, and Dent were all properly provided notice of the
action and served with Verified Complaints by certified mail
and U.S. mail. ECF No. 3. The Government published notice of
the forfeiture on the official government website,
www.forfeiture.gov, as required by Rule
G(4)(a)(iv)(C). Declaration of Publication 5, ECF No. 23. The
last publication occurred on June 22, 2016. Id.
Government, citing procedural deficiencies and Dent's
withdrawal of her claim, now moves for the Court to strike
the pleadings filed by Jackson and Jones. It further moves
for the Court to enter default against the two defendant dogs
seized from Jackson's residence and to dismiss as
defendant the dog seized from Jones' residence.
Admiralty and Maritime Rule G delineates the procedure
governing forfeiture actions in rem. Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp., Rule
G(5). Pursuant to Rule G(4) of the Supplemental Rules for
Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions,
the government must provide notice and a copy of the
complaint to potential claimants, who are required to file a
claim and then an answer with the district court.
Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. Rule G(4)-(5). A party asserting an
interest in seized property must file a verified claim,
identifying the property and the claimant's interest, and
serve it on the United States via the appropriate government
attorney. Id. at G(5)(a)(i). The claim must be
“signed by the claimant under penalty of
perjury.” Id. at G(5)(a)(i)(C). See also
United States v. Commodity Account No 549 54930 at Saul Stone
& Co., 219 F.3d 595 (7th Cir. 2000) (noting that
“requirement of oath or affirmation is not a mere
technical requirement that we easily excuse.”) A
claimant's answer must be served and filed within 21 days
of filing the claim, Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. G(5)(b). A claimant
who fails to meet the aforementioned requirements lacks
standing to defend and contest the forfeiture. Saul Stone
& Co., 219 F.3d 595, 597 (7th Cir. 2000) (citing
United States v. All Assets & Equip. of W. Side Bldg.
Corp., 58 F.3d 1181, 1186 (7th Cir. 1995)).
must be entered against a party from “whom a judgment
for affirmative relief is sought [but] has failed to plead or
otherwise defend, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a), and, in its
discretion, a district court may grant a party's
subsequent motion for default judgment, Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b);
see also In re Catt, 368 F.3d 789, 793 (7th Cir.
2004). A default judgment establishes a defendant's
liability as a matter of law. Dundee Cement Co. v. Howard
Pipe & Concrete Products, Inc., 722 F.2d 1319, 1323
(7th Cir. 1983); Breuer Elec. Mfg. Co. v. Toronado Sys.
of Am., Inc., 687 F.2d 182, 186 (7th Cir. 1982).
Jones nor Jackson verified their claims by oath or
affirmation. In the Seventh Circuit, verification of a claim
is an “essential element of any claim” and
failure to observe the requirement essentially dooms the
claimant's ability to contest the forfeiture. Saul
Stone & Co., 219 F.3d at 597 (quoting United
States v. U.S. Currency, in the Amount of $103, 387.27,
863 F.2d 555, 559 (7th Cir. 1988)); see United States v.
Funds in the Amount of $239, 400, 795 F.3d 639, 643 (7th
Cir. 2015). Neither Jones nor Jackson attempted to properly
serve their Claims on the government. See $239, 400,
795 F.3d at 644. Nor did either claimant file an answer
within the requisite 21-day period. Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp.
G(5)(b). Tara Dent has subsequently relinquished her right in
the dog via the Petition to Withdraw Claim, in which she
explicitly consented to the surrender of her rights in the
dog. See Mot. Dismiss One Dog.
Claims filed by Jones and Jackson are procedurally deficient
and neither individual has established statutory standing in
this civil forfeiture action. Jackson's and Jones'
Claims are to be stricken from the record. Dent is the only
other claimant who has expressed ownership interest in the
dog seized at Jones' residence. No other claimants have
appeared to claim ownership over the dogs seized from any of
these properties, and the thirty day period for filing claims
on the property has long elapsed. All potential claimants are
in default. United States v. Eleven Thousand Four Hundred
Ninety-one & 00/100 ($11, 491.00) Dollars in U.S.
Currency, No. 10-1064, 2010 WL 3829432, ...