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United States v. $115

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 6, 2018

$115, 020.00 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, Defendant.


          Herndon, United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Now before the Court is Claimants Semin Muranovic and Mersada Muranovic's motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and Rules G(5)(b) and E(2)(a) of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions (Doc. 9). The United States opposes claimants' motion (Doc. 12). For the reasons explained below, the Court DENIES claimants' motion to dismiss.

         II. Background

         The facts pleaded in the government's verified complaint for forfeiture (“complaint”) (Doc. 1) are as follows.[1] On October 28, 2016, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Task Force Officers (TFOs) Matt Plassman and Larry Brantley observed a white Volvo tractor-trailer sitting at the Highland (Illinois) rest area on the westbound side of Interstate 70. Black lettering on the side of the truck “appeared unprofessional and hurried, ” and the truck bore the name “Sammys Logis.” (Doc. 1-1, ¶1). The DEA officers noted the truck's higher U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) number, which indicated that the truck had been registered recently (Id.). The officers ran the truck's vehicle registration and USDOT number through law enforcement databases, which showed that the truck was registered to Semin Muranovic in Tucson, Arizona, and that the company had only one truck and one driver. (Id.). The officers then ran Muranovic's name through law enforcement databases, which showed that Muranovic had been arrested and charged with multiple drug-related offenses in Tucson in 2008. (Id.).

         The officers approached the truck, knocked on the passenger door, and were met by an individual whose Arizona driver license identified him as Semin Muranovic. When the officers asked for his log book and bill of lading, Muranovic produced his log book but stated that he did not have a bill of lading because his trailer was empty ((Doc. 1-1, ¶3).). The officers noticed a number of personal items in the cabin of Muranovic's truck and asked Muranovic where he was going and why he was traveling without a load (Id.). Muranovic stated that he had driven from Tucson, Arizona to Columbus, Ohio to meet an individual who was interested in buying his truck. Muranovic told the officers that he then drove to Youngstown, Ohio to pick up a cargo load (Id.). Muranovic explained that while he was driving to Youngstown, his wife called to inform him that his thirty-year-old son had suffered a heart attack, and Muranovic turned back toward Arizona without picking up the load (Id.).

         When the officers asked Muranovic about the identity of the buyer in Columbus, Muranovic struggled to answer and his hands began to shake visibly. Muranovic also could not explain how he intended to travel back to Tucson if he had planned to sell his truck in Columbus (Id.). Muranovic's log book indicated that he had been off duty for fourteen days during the month of October before arriving in Youngstown on October 27, 2016, and that he had remained in Youngstown for twenty-five hours before departing (Doc. 1-1, ¶4). Muranovic's log book thus contradicted his statement that he had turned around before reaching Youngstown.

         The officers obtained Muranovic's consent to search his truck (Doc. 1-1, ¶5). While TFO Brantley searched the cabin of Muranovic's truck, Muranovic told TFO Plassman that he had turned back to Arizona without a load because his twelve-year-old son was having allergy problems. (Doc. 1-1, ¶6). This appeared to contradict his earlier statement that his thirty-year-old son's heart attack was the reason he had aborted his trip to Youngstown.

         TFO Brantley found a light green bag in the upper passenger-side compartment of truck's cabin. (Doc. 1-1, ¶7). Inside the bag, TFO Brantley found two clear, vacuum-sealed baggies that contained several large, rubber-banded bundles of U.S. currency. Muranovic claimed ownership of the money and told the officers that he had received it from an insurance claim (Id.).

         The officers transported Muranovic to the Pontoon Beach Police Department, where they placed the seized currency in one of four empty brown paper bags and enlisted the service of Paco, a Police Chief's narcotic detector dog (Doc. 1-1, ¶8). After sniffing and bypassing the first of the four bags, Paco alerted on the second bag, which contained the seized currency, by “sniffing emphatically, ” nose poking, scratching, and jumping on the bag. (Doc. 1-1, ¶9).

         The officers moved Muranovic to an interview room and read him his Miranda rights. Muranovic also agreed to speak with them and consented to a search of his cell phone (Doc. 1-1, ¶10). The contacts section of Muranovic's cell phone contained a telephone number associated with a Tucson, Arizona trucking company that the DEA had previously investigated for smuggling narcotics and drug proceeds (Doc. 1-1, ¶11). The currency seized from Muranovic's truck totaled $115, 020.00. Muranovic told the officers that he had received the money from an insurance claim relating to an accident in 2007 (Doc. 1-1, ¶10).

         Following the incident with Claimant Semin Muranovic, on March 23, 2017, the government filed its verified complaint for forfeiture, commencing this in rem forfeiture action pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) (Doc. 1). The government alleges that the seized currency is subject to forfeiture because it constitutes “money furnished or intended to be furnished by a person in exchange for a controlled substance, or proceeds traceable to such an exchange, or money used to facilitate a violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 801 et seq.” (Doc. 1). On April 14, 2017, claimants asserted interest in defendant $115, 020.00, claiming ownership of the seized currency (Doc. 5), and thereafter, filed the timely motion to dismiss now before this Court (Doc. 9). On May 26, 2017, the government filed its response opposing dismissal (Doc 12).

         III. Motion to Dismiss

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). The Supreme Court explained in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly that Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is warranted if the complaint fails to set forth “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Although federal pleading standards were retooled by Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), notice pleading remains all that is required in a complaint. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008). Additionally, when evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court can ...

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