United States of America v. Vehicle 2003 GMC Sierra 3500 Pickup Truck, VIN 1GTJK33113F208636
OPINION AND ORDER granting 38 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by District Judge Patrick J. Duggan. (MOre)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Case No. 05-74205
Honorable Patrick J. Duggan
ONE 2003 GMC SIERRA 3500 PICKUP
TRUCK, VIN: 1GTJK33113F208636,
OPINION AND ORDER
At a session of said Court, held in the U.S.
District Courthouse, Eastern District
of Michigan, on June 28, 2012.
THE HONORABLE PATRICK J. DUGGAN
U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
On November 2, 2005, the government filed this forfeiture suit, naming as in rem
defendant a vehicle seized by agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”). Before
the Court is the government’s motion for entry of an order voluntarily dismissing this case
with prejudice, filed on May 21, 2012 pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
41(a)(2). John David Presley, the sole claimant in this action, has not filed a response to
the motion. He has instead filed a “Settlement Conference Statement” in which he asserts
that he is entitled to receive the fair market value of the vehicle at the time it was seized.
See Dkt. # 39. The Court is dispensing with oral argument pursuant to Eastern District of
Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f)(2), and for the reasons stated below, grants the government’s
I. Factual and Procedural Background
In early 2003, Presley bought a 2003 GMC Sierra pickup truck from Superior
Pontiac GMC, a dealership in Dearborn, Michigan, paying the purchase price with
$44,000 in cash. Two dealership employees apparently used this cash to purchase five
cashier’s checks from local banks and credit unions, then documented the transaction to
reflect that the purchase price was paid with the cashier’s checks and $9,800 in U.S.
Presley owned a produce business and employed a number of truck drivers. During
2002 and 2003, law enforcement authorities stopped two of his drivers and seized large
quantities of marijuana. The DEA began to investigate Presley’s activities, leading to his
indictment on one charge of conspiracy to distribute more than one hundred kilograms of
marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B)(vii). The government
also obtained a warrant to seize the GMC pickup truck. The seizure took place on June
15, 2005. The government subsequently filed this forfeiture action, which was stayed
pending completion of the criminal proceedings.
The two truck drivers who had been stopped by law enforcement authorities testified
against Presley during a two-day jury trial held in October 2006. Presley was found
guilty, and his conviction was affirmed on appeal. United States v. Presley, 349 Fed.
App’x 22 (6th Cir. Oct. 13, 2009). The government filed a motion to allow an
interlocutory sale of the vehicle, and on July 15, 2009, the Court granted this motion. The
pickup truck was sold for approximately $17,500.1
In August 2010, Presley’s attorney moved to withdraw from this case, and the Court
granted his motion soon afterward. At that time, Presley began representing himself in
On October 20, 2010, Presley filed a motion to vacate his conviction pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2255. Presley argued that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel, as
his attorney failed to introduce evidence that would have impeached the government’s key
witnesses.2 The Court determined that an evidentiary hearing was necessary to resolve this
claim and appointed the Federal Defender’s Office to represent Presley.
After an evidentiary hearing held on June 9, 2011, the Court concluded that due to
the error of Presley’s counsel, the government’s case had not been subjected to meaningful
adversarial testing. The Court granted Presley’s § 2255 motion in an Opinion and Order
dated August 16, 2011, directing that he be released from custody unless the government
commenced a new trial within 180 days. The Court subsequently dismissed the indictment
pursuant to a motion filed by the government.
On October 26, 2011, the government moved for summary judgment in the forfeiture
Storage costs of $9,066.48 were incurred as a result of the length of time the vehicle was
in storage. These costs were assessed against the proceeds and paid by the United States
Marshals Service to its contractor. According to the government, this leaves $8,433.52 in
net proceeds from the sale.
Presley’s § 2255 motion raised a number of other claims. On February 23, 2011, the
Court entered an Opinion and Order denying relief with respect to all of Presley’s claims
except for his claim that trial counsel was ineffective as a result of his failure to present
the testimony of two witnesses.
action. The government asserted that the proceeds of the vehicle’s sale are subject to
forfeiture pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 5317(c)(2) as property involved in a transaction
structured to evade reporting requirements. A hearing was held on January 23, 2012. The
Court denied the government’s motion, concluding that a genuine dispute of fact existed
with respect to Presley’s “innocent owner” defense. If Presley proved this defense, the
proceeds of the vehicle would not be subject to forfeiture. See 18 U.S.C. § 983(d).
A settlement conference relating to this forfeiture action was held on May 14, 2012,
before Magistrate Judge David R. Grand. No settlement was reached. Presley has resisted
efforts to settle the case for less than the fair market value of the vehicle at the time of the
seizure, an amount that he believes is considerably higher than the auction price.
The government has now moved for entry of an order voluntarily dismissing this
forfeiture action pursuant to Rule 41(a)(2). The government has determined that it would
not be cost-effective to try this case for the amount remaining in controversy. Therefore,
the government seeks an order of voluntary dismissal with prejudice and providing for the
payment of the sale’s net proceeds to Presley. Presley has apparently indicated in e-mail
correspondence that he will not agree to entry of the requested order unless it makes clear
that he is free to bring a future action for the full value of the truck. See Pl.’s Mot. 3.
Rule 41(a)(2) provides that an action may be dismissed at the plaintiff’s request by
court order “on terms that the court considers proper.” The rule further provides:
If a defendant has pleaded a counterclaim before being served with the
plaintiff’s motion to dismiss, the action may be dismissed over the defendant’s
objection only if the counterclaim can remain pending for independent
Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(2). As the government notes, no counterclaim has been filed in this
action.3 Without a counterclaim, Presley can only recover the proceeds of the vehicle’s
sale, and he would receive those proceeds under the order proposed by the government.
This suggests that voluntary dismissal would not prejudice Presley.
Despite having failed to file a counterclaim, Presley has suggested that he intends to
seek recovery of the full value of the seized truck. The Court considers whether voluntary
dismissal would affect Presley’s ability to pursue such relief, and concludes that it would
not. The Court believes that Presley’s claim is in the nature of a compulsory counterclaim,
and that Presley has effectively waived it. The federal rules provide:
A pleading must state as a counterclaim any claim that - at the time of its service the pleader has against an opposing party if the claim:
(A) arises out of the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of
the opposing party’s claim; and
(B) does not require adding another party over whom the court cannot
Fed. R. Civ. P. 13(a)(1). Failure to assert a compulsory counterclaim as required by Rule
13(a) results in waiver of the claim. Kane v. Magna Mixer Co., 71 F.3d 555, 562-63 (6th
Cir. 1995). Presley’s claim for the full value of the vehicle would arise from the seizure
which is the focus of this forfeiture suit, and the government is already a party to the suit.
Having effectively waived his potential counterclaim for money in excess of the proceeds
Although Rule 41(a)(2)’s language appears to apply only to counterclaims raised by “a
defendant,” the Court nevertheless believes that the same principle would be properly
applied to a counterclaim raised by a claimant in a forfeiture action. However, as
indicated above, Presley has not filed a counterclaim.
of the sale, Presley would be unable to assert this claim in a subsequent action.4 Voluntary
dismissal of this forfeiture suit would therefore have no impact on Presley’s ability to
obtain relief. Because no prejudice will result, the Court believes that the government’s
motion should be granted.
The government has requested that the order of dismissal state that the United States
and its agents had reasonable cause for the seizure of the defendant vehicle under 28
U.S.C. § 2465, and that the government’s position in this suit was substantially justified
under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B).
The court first considers the question of “reasonable cause” for the seizure. The
[I]f it appears that there was reasonable cause for the seizure or arrest, the court
shall cause a proper certificate thereof to be entered and, in such case, neither
the person who made the seizure or arrest nor the prosecutor shall be liable to
suit or judgment on account of such suit or prosecution . . ..
28 U.S.C. § 2465(a)(2). “‘Reasonable cause’ within the meaning of section 2465 is
essentially synonymous with probable cause.” United States v. One 1996 Ford Pickup, 56
F.3d 1181, 1186 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Stacey v. Emery, 97 U.S. 642, 646 (1878); United
States v. 255 Broadway, 9 F.3d 1000, 1006 n.9 (1st Cir. 1993)). The Court notes that the
government obtained a seizure warrant in connection with the seizure of Presley’s truck.
This warrant was issued by Magistrate Judge Virginia Morgan on June 14, 2005. Gov’t
The Court also notes that Rule 41(a)(2)’s counterclaim language applies where the
counterclaim was pleaded before service of the motion for voluntary dismissal. This
suggests that a party should not be able to oppose a motion for voluntary dismissal by
pleading a counterclaim in response to the motion.
Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1. The Court is unaware of any evidence indicating that the
statements supporting the warrant were false, and believes that the issuance of this warrant
definitively resolves the question of reasonable cause in the government’s favor.
The Court next considers whether the government’s position was “substantially
justified” for purposes of the EAJA. This statute provides in pertinent part:
A party seeking an award of fees and other expenses shall, within thirty days of
final judgment in the action, submit to the court an application for fees and
other expenses which shows that the party is a prevailing party and is eligible
to receive an award under this subsection, and the amount sought, including an
itemized statement from any attorney or expert witness representing or
appearing in behalf of the party stating the actual time expended and the rate at
which fees and other expenses were computed. The party shall also allege that
the position of the United States was not substantially justified. Whether or not
the position of the United States was substantially justified shall be determined
on the basis of the record (including the record with respect to the action or
failure to act by the agency upon which the civil action is based) which is made
in the civil action for which fees and other expenses are sought.
28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B). The Supreme Court has concluded that in this context, the
term “substantially justified” means “‘justified in substance or in the main’ - that is,
justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487
U.S. 552, 565, 108 S. Ct. 2541, 2550 (1988). “That is no different from the ‘reasonable
basis both in law and fact’ formulation” that had previously been adopted by some Courts
of Appeals. Id. at 565, 108 S. Ct. at 2550. “To be ‘substantially justified’ means . . . more
than merely undeserving of sanctions for frivolousness; that is assuredly not the standard
for Government litigation of which a reasonable person would approve.” Id. at 566, 108
S. Ct. at 2550. “In other words, to be substantially justified, the position of the
government must have a reasonable basis in both fact and law; however, it need not hold a
winning hand.” United States v. Certain Land Situated in the City of Detroit, 600 F. Supp.
2d 880, 895 (E.D. Mich. 2009).
Even if the Court were to assume that Presley is a “prevailing party” under the
statute,5 the Court concludes that the government’s position was “substantially justified”
for purposes of § 2412(d)(1)(B). Presley’s conviction for conspiracy to distribute
marijuana provided grounds for believing that the truck was subject to forfeiture as
proceeds of narcotics trafficking, and this conviction was not vacated until 2011.
Moreover, statements made to Special Agent Steven Temprano indicated that Presley was
aware that the purchase of the truck was structured to avoid reporting requirements
relating to large cash transactions. If proven, this would have provided grounds for
forfeiture of the vehicle as property involved in a structuring transaction. See 31 U.S.C. §
5317(c)(2). The Court believes that the government’s position rested on a reasonable basis
of fact and law, even though the government might not have ultimately prevailed in its
claim at trial. The Court therefore concludes that the government’s position was
The government does not make this argument in its brief, although it does question
whether a voluntary dismissal could be considered “substantially prevail[ing]” under §
2465. The Court is not persuaded that a voluntary dismissal has “‘the necessary judicial
imprimatur’” sufficient to bestow “prevailing party” status under § 2412. Marshall v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 444 F.3d 837, 840 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Buckhannon Bd. & Care
Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Dep’t of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 604, 121 S. Ct.
1835, 1840 (2001)). Furthermore, the only authorities the Court has been able to locate
with respect to a “prevailing party” in an in rem forfeiture action indicate that even a
successful claimant is not a “prevailing party,” as the defendant is the property itself, and
the statute defines “party” in such a manner as to exclude property. See United States v.
Land, Shelby County, 45 F.3d 397, 398 (11th Cir. 1995); Moore’s Federal Practice - Civil
§ 54.172[b][iii][C] (“In an in rem case, the property cannot be a ‘party’ under the
EAJA’s definition of that term.”).
“substantially justified” for purposes of § 2412(d)(1)(B).
III. Conclusion and Order
For the reasons set forth above, the Court concludes that no prejudice will result
from voluntary dismissal of this suit, and believes that the government’s motion should be
granted. The Court further concludes that the United States and its agents had reasonable
cause for the seizure of the defendant vehicle under 28 U.S.C. § 2465, and that the
government’s position in this action was substantially justified for purposes of 28 U.S.C. §
IT IS ORDERED that the government’s motion for entry of an order of voluntary
dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2) is GRANTED. This case
is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE, and the government is directed to disburse the net
proceeds of the sale of the vehicle to Claimant John David Presley as soon as practicable.
s/PATRICK J. DUGGAN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Tauras N. Ziedas, A.U.S.A.
Andrew N. Wise, Esq.
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