Bradberry v. State of Ohio
Memorandum of opinion and Order granting defendants' Motions to dismiss Plaintiff's motion for return of property. (Related Docs # 3 , 5 )(C,KA)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
-vsSTATE OF OHIO, et al.,
CASE NO. 1:11-1240
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’
MOTIONS TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF’S
PETITION FOR RETURN OF SEIZED
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE LESLEY WELLS
On 27 May 2011 Plaintiff Tajuan Bradberry filed a petition for return of seized
property in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. (Doc. 1). On 16 June 2011,
Defendant Joseph Harper removed the case to this Court. (Doc. 1). Defendants moved
to dismiss Plaintiff’s petition. (Doc. 3, 5). Plaintiff replied to these motions and
Defendants responded. (Doc. 4, 6, 7). For the foregoing reasons, this Court will grant
Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss.
On 11 May 2011, $20,100.00 were seized from Plaintiff. On 14 June 2011, the
Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) mailed notice to Plaintiff of its intent to forfeit the
seized moneys. The notice further informed Plaintiff of the procedures for contesting
this forfeiture. Plaintiff does not dispute that these moneys are in the custody of the
DEA or that he received proper notice of forfeiture and the procedures for contesting
forfeiture. Plaintiff wants his property returned and has filed a petition in state court to
that effect. That petition has been removed to this Court.
A. IN REM JURISDICTION
As a threshold matter, Plaintiff contends that this Court does not have in rem
jurisdiction over the property he would like returned. To support this proposition, he
cites Penn Gen. Cas. Co. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 294 U.S. 189 (1935),
which states that a court may not exercise in rem jurisdiction over a res if another court
is already exercising such jurisdiction over the same res. In the present case,
Bradberry claims that the State of Ohio already exercised in rem jurisdiction over the
seized property, and, that therefore, this Court does not have in rem jurisdiction over the
property. Plaintiff’s argument, however, is flawed and this Court does have in rem
jurisdiction over his property.
Simply because a federal agent in this case seized Plaintiff’s property pursuant to
a state search warrant does not necessarily mean a state court exercised in rem
jurisdiction over his property. The execution of a state search warrant and seizure of
property does not automatically vest in rem jurisdiction over that property in state court.
United States v. Certain Real Prop. 566 Hendrickson Blvd., 986 F.2d 990, 993-94 (6th
Cir. 1993). In fact, “where the federal court is the only court attempting to exercise in
rem jurisdiction over property and the state never institutes a forfeiture action, the
federal court’s exercise of jurisdiction is proper.” United States v. One Hundred ThirtyFour Thousand Nine Hundred Twenty Dollars in United States Currency, 25 F.3d 1051
(6th Cir. 1994). In the present case, the state of Ohio never instituted a civil or criminal
forfeiture action against the property. Accordingly, the state never had in rem jurisdiction
over the property, and this Court may exercise proper in rem jurisdiction.
B. PLAINTIFF’S PETITION FOR RETURN OF PROPERTY
Plaintiff’s Petition, by virtue of removal, has become a motion to return property
under Fed. R. Crim. P. 41(g). Indeed, Plaintiff wants this federal court to order the DEA
to return his property. Because this motion was filed prior to a criminal proceeding, it is
deemed a civil proceeding invoking this Court’s equitable power. United States v.
Search of Music City Mktg.,Inc., 212 F. 3d 920, 923 (6 Cir 2000). The question
remains, however, whether or not this Court’s equitable powers are available to Plaintiff.
Before a court exercises its equitable jurisdiction over a motion under Federal
Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g), the movant must show “that he will suffer irreparable
harm and that there is no adequate remedy at law.” Eight Thousand and Fifty Dollars in
United States Currency v. United States, 307 F. Supp. 2d 922, 925 (N.D. Ohio 2004)
(citing Search of Music City Mktg., Inc., 212 F.3d 920, 923 (6th Cir. 2000). The
preliminary inquiry in this analysis is whether the movant has established that the legal
remedies available to him are inadequate. Id. at 927 (“Because [the movant] has failed
to show that he has an inadequate remedy at law, the Court need not decide whether
he has shown irreparable harm.”). In the present case, Bradberry has the specific legal
remedy of 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(2), which sets forth the procedures to be followed by a
person claiming property seized in a non judicial civil forfeiture proceeding. This
statutory provision has been found not to be inadequate. Indeed, “[a]fter the
government initiates forfeiture proceedings and notifies a claimant of the proceedings, a
claimant may no longer use Rule 41(e), but instead must submit to the statutory
procedures governing civil forfeiture proceedings.” See also United States v. One 1974
Learjet 24D, 191 F.3d 668, 673 (6 Cir. 1999). Furthermore, Plaintiff has made no
particular showing that this legal remedy available to him is inadequate.
Plaintiff somewhat confusingly objects to the above logic and rationale. He
contends that DEA agent Joseph Harper was acting as a private citizen when he
executed the search warrant and seized the property in question. He further contends
that it is improper for a DEA agent to execute a search warrant issued by a state court.
However, these alleged facts do not change the analysis. Plaintiff’s property is in the
custody of the DEA. Plaintiff’s Petition moves this Court, a federal court, to order the
DEA to return it. However, this Court cannot exercise its equitable powers because
Bradberry has an adequate legal remedy, that of 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(2). Defendants’
Motions to Dismiss will therefore, be granted.
For the reasons set forth above, this Court grants Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiff’s motion for return of property.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/ Lesley Wells
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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