UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. Jerabek Personal Property
ORDER denying 22 Motion to Suppress; denying as moot 28 Motion for Miscellaneous Relief or Withdrawal of Claim; denying 16 Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Return of Property; granting 18 Motion for Summary Judgment; and adopting 30 Memorandum and Recommendation - Signed by District Judge Louise Wood Flanagan on 03/07/2014. (Baker, C.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
JERABEK PERSONAL PROPERTY
Specifically Described As: A 2008 Dodge
Charger, VIN: 2B3KA43G38H286411,
and all attachments thereon; and any and
all proceeds from the sale of said property,
ROBERT E. JERABEK,
This matter comes before the court on claimant’s motion to dismiss and for return of property
(DE 16), claimant’s motion to suppress (DE 22), and the government’s motion for summary
judgment (DE 18). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), United States Magistrate Judge Robert B.
Jones, Jr. entered memorandum and recommendation (“M&R”) (DE 30) wherein it is recommended
that the court deny claimant’s motion to dismiss and for return of property, deny claimant’s motion
to suppress, and grant the government’s motion for summary judgment. No objections to the M&R
have been filed, and the time within which to make any objection has expired. Also before the court
is claimant’s motion to withdraw his claim in exchange for waiver of his state criminal fine (DE 28).
For reasons given, the court ADOPTS the M&R in full, DENIES claimant’s motions to dismiss and
suppress, and GRANTS the government’s summary judgment motion. Claimant’s motion to
withdraw will be DENIED AS MOOT.
The defendant vehicle was seized by officers with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s
Department (“NHCSD”) who were executing a search warrant at claimant’s residence on March 28,
2012. Compl. Ex. A., Jordan Decl., 4. On April 19, 2012, claimant was sentenced in New Hanover
County District Court to a suspended sentence of six to seventeen (17) months incarceration for
manufacture of a controlled substance in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-95. See New Hanover
Judgment Suspending Sentence (“state court judgment”) (DE 16-2). Defendant was also fined five
thousand dollars ($5,000.00). The state court judgment provided that the “[s]eized vehicle is to be
returned to defendant if it is not in federal custody. If [the] vehicle is in poss[ession] of federal
auth[orities] and not retrievable by defendant then [the] fine is to be waived.” The Drug
Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) subsequently “adopted” the seizure of the defendant vehicle,
and mailed claimant an official notice of seizure on May 16, 2012. See Notice of Seizure (DE 16-1).
On August 28, 2012, the government filed, in this court, a complaint for forfeiture in rem
against the defendant vehicle. The complaint alleges the defendant vehicle was used or intended to
be used to facilitate the transportation, sale, receipt, possession, or concealment of controlled
substances in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. 841 et seq. Claimant filed his
claim and answer on December 27, 2012. On April 30, 2013, claimant filed the instant motion to
dismiss and for return of property. Claimant contends that pursuant to the state court judgment, the
defendant vehicle must be returned to him. Claimant also asserts that the defendant vehicle was not
purchased with proceeds from illegal activity, and he states that he was not convicted of any criminal
charges with respect to his use of the defendant vehicle. This motion was opposed by the
The government then filed the instant motion for summary judgment on June 5, 2013,
asserting that where claimant neither served response, nor objected, to the government’s first request
for admissions, the same are deemed admitted and establish that there is no genuine issue of material
fact that forfeiture of the defendant vehicle is proper.
On July 3, 2013, claimant filed the instant motion to suppress all evidence resulting from the
search of his home, asserting that the search warrant was invalid. Claimant contends that the
affidavit submitted in support of the search warrant lacked probable cause because (1) it mis-stated
his criminal history, (2) it improperly relied on information from a confidential informant, and (3)
it improperly relied on electric bills.
These motions were referred for M&R. After such referral, and before M&R was entered,
petitioner filed a motion to withdraw and for miscellaneous relief (DE 28), stating that he would like
to withdraw his claim on the condition that the five thousand dollars in fines imposed against him
by the state court be waived. This motion is opposed by the government.
In the M&R, entered February 6, 2014, it is recommended that claimant’s motion to dismiss
and for return of property be denied, claimant’s motion to suppress be denied, and the government’s
motion for summary judgment be granted.
The Motions Referred for M&R
Absent a specific and timely filed objection to a magistrate judge’s M&R, the court reviews
only for “clear error,” and need not give any explanation for adopting the M&R. Diamond v.
Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198,
200 (4th Cir.1983). Upon careful review of the record, “the court may accept, reject, or modify, in
whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. §
Claimant’s Motion to Dismiss
As set forth in the thoughtful and thorough M&R, the state court judgment does not preclude
the instant federal forfeiture action. In an in rem proceeding “‘the court first assuming jurisdiction
over the property may maintain and exercise that jurisdiction to the exclusion of the other.’” United
States v. Winston-Salem/Forsyth Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 902 F.2d 267, 271 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting
Penn Gen. Cas. Co. v. Pennsylvania, 294 U.S. 189, 195 (1935)). Here, the action in state court was
not an in rem forfeiture action. Accordingly, the state court action itself presents no jurisdictional
bar to the federal action.
Moreover, “the [federal] government may adopt a seizure” made by state or local authorities,
and may do so even where those authorities had “no authority to transfer the property” to the federal
government. Id. at 272; see also City of Concord, N.C. v. Robinson, 914 F. Supp. 2d 696, 706
(M.D.N.C. 2012) (“So long as a state court has not exercised in rem jurisdiction over the proceeds,
the federal government may adopt seized property, even if the party transferring it was without
authority to release it.”). Furthermore, “a federal agency’s adoption of a seizure has the same effect
as if the federal agency had originally seized the property on the date it was seized by the local
Madewell v. Downs, 68 F.3d 1030, 1039 (8th Cir. 1995); see also
Winston-Salem/Forsyth Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 902 F.2d at 270 n.1 (“DEA adopts seizures by state or
local law enforcement officials when it takes custody of seized property and treats the property as
if DEA had made the initial seizure. DEA may then institute forfeiture proceedings in accordance
with federal law.”). Thus, even assuming the NHCSD violated the state court order to return the
vehicle to claimant, such violation would not effect the legitimacy of the instant forfeiture action.
As noted in the M&R, claimant’s additional arguments for dismissal – namely that he
purchased the vehicle with legitimate funds, and that he was not criminally convicted of wrongfully
using the vehicle – are without merit. 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(4) provides for forfeiture of property used
to facilitate production and distribution of controlled substances, regardless of how they were
purchased. And in civil forfeiture actions “conviction for the underlying criminal activity is not a
prerequisite for forfeiture of the property.” United States v. One Parcel of Real Estate Located at
7715 Betsy Bruce Lane Summerfield, N.C., 906 F.2d 110, 112 (4th Cir. 1990). Rather, “property
is subject to forfeiture even if its owner is acquitted of-or never called to defend against-criminal
charges.” Id. Thus, claimant’s motion to dismiss and for return of property is denied.
Claimant’s Motion to Suppress
For reasons given in the M&R, claimant’s motion to suppress will also be denied. The
information in the search warrant affidavit regarding claimant’s criminal history was not false where
it does not assert, as claimant contends, that he was convicted for maintaining a dwelling to keep
a controlled substance. Rather the affidavit only asserted that claimant had been arrested for this
offense. See Search Warrant Aff. (DE 22-1).
Similarly, claimant’s contention that the information in the affidavit could not support a
finding a probable cause is without merit. In the first case, the affidavit refers to the past reliability
of the confidential informant, and notes that information given by that informant was corroborated
by independent investigation of police officers. See United States v. Lalor, 996 F.2d 1578, 1581
(4th Cir.1993)(“Corroboration of apparently innocent details of an informant’s report tends to
indicate that other aspects of the report are also correct.”). Furthermore, the electricity records
obtained by police showed that claimant’s average monthly bill was approximately triple that of
surrounding residences. See United States v. Miller, No.1:12CR269-1, 2012 WL 4061771, at *6
(M.D.N.C. Sept. 14, 2012) (defendant’s usage of nearly three times the electricity of comparable
neighboring houses was important corroborating information). For these and other reasons
expounded in the M&R, claimant’s motion to suppress is denied.
The Government’s Motion for Summary Judgment
For reasons given in the M&R, the government’s motion for summary judgment is granted.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36(a)(3), “[a] matter is admitted unless, within 30 days
after being served, the party to whom the request is directed serve on the requesting party a written
answer or objection addressed to the matter and signed by the party of its attorney.” Here, by failing
to timely respond to the government’s first request for admissions, claimant is deemed to have
admitted the following: (1) that he is the registered owner of the defendant vehicle; (2) that when
the defendant vehicle was searched on March 28, 2012, it had marijuana in it; (3) that he used the
defendant vehicle to transport equipment or supplies to grow marijuana; (4) that he smoked
marijuana in the defendant vehicle; (5) that he allowed others to smoke marijuana in the defendant
vehicle; (6) that he stored marijuana or other illegal controlled substances in the defendant vehicle;
(7) that he possessed or distributed marijuana or other controlled substances in the defendant
vehicle; and (8) that he grew and harvested marijuana within his residence. This evidence shows
that there is no genuine issue of material fact that claimant’s vehicle is subject to forfeiture under
21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(4) (providing, in relevant part that “[a]ll . . . vehicles . . . which are used . . . to
. . . in any manner to facilitate the transportation, sale, receipt, possession, or concealment of” drugs
are subject to forfeiture). Accordingly the government’s motion for summary judgment is granted.
Claimant’s Motion to Withdraw
In his motion to withdraw, claimant states that he will withdraw his claim if the criminal fine
imposed against him in the state court judgment is waived. This court lacks jurisdiction over the
state criminal matter, and cannot issue any orders waiving claimant’s state criminal fine. Moreover,
where this matter is resolved by summary judgment for the government, claimant’s motion to
withdraw is denied as moot.
Based upon the foregoing, upon careful review of the M&R and of the record generally,
having found no clear error, the court hereby ADOPTS the recommendation of the magistrate judge
as its own, and, for the reasons stated therein, DENIES claimant’s motions to dismiss and for return
of property (DE 16) and to suppress (DE 22), and GRANTS the government’s motion for summary
judgment (DE 18). Where the government’s motion for summary judgment is granted, claimant’s
motion to withdraw (DE 28) is DENIED AS MOOT.
SO ORDERED, this the _____ day of March, 2014.
LOUISE W. FLANAGAN
United States District Judge
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