Hernandez Martinez v. United States of America
Memorandum Opinion and Order...Before the Court is Defendant United States of Americas (Government) Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 17 . Having reviewed the Motion, Appendix (ECF No. 18 ), Petitioner Karla I. Hernandez Martinezs claims (ECF Nos. 1 , 5 ), and the applicable law, the Court concludes that Petitioners case should be DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction. In light of the foregoing, the Court concludes that the Governments Motion to Dismiss should be and hereby is GRANTED and this case should be and hereby is DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction. (Ordered by Judge Mark Pittman on 7/15/2021) (wxc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
FORT WORTH DIVISION
KARLA I. HERNANDEZ
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Civil Action No. 4:19-cv-01031-P
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Before the Court is Defendant United States of America’s (“Government”) Motion
to Dismiss. ECF No. 17. Having reviewed the Motion, Appendix (ECF No. 18), Petitioner
Karla I. Hernandez Martinez’s claims (ECF Nos. 1, 5), and the applicable law, the Court
concludes that Petitioner’s case should be DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction.
Facts Leading to Arrest of Petitioner’s Husband
Petitioner’s complaint arises from the Government’s seizure of a truck, a 2015
Toyota Tundra, when Petitioner’s husband was arrested in connection with the offense in
the underlying criminal case. 1 Supp. Mt. at 1, ECF No. 5. Petitioner claims the truck
belongs to her and that she is an innocent third party. Id.
The underlying criminal case was styled, U.S. v. Lujano-Jaimes, and numbered 4:17-CR00223-A-1. The “CR ECF No. __” reference is to the number of the item on the docket in the
underlying criminal case.
The record in the underlying criminal case reflects that on October 2, 2017,
Petitioner’s husband agreed to meet up to conduct a transaction for approximately five
kilograms of methamphetamine. 2 CR ECF No. 21 at 2. At that time, Petitioner’s husband
was arrested and charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine, in
violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). CR ECF Nos. 1, 8, 21 at 1. The criminal
complaint states that at the time the arrest, agents/officers seized approximately five grams
of methamphetamine and that Petitioner’s husband consented to a search of his residence
where agents/officers seized one kilogram of methamphetamine, approximately 200 grams
of suspected cocaine, and a pistol. 3 CR ECF No. 1 at 2. Moreover, Petitioner’s husband
admitted that he had used the truck to transport approximately five kilograms of
methamphetamine to his residence prior to delivery. Govt.’s App’x at 12. Petitioner’s
husband eventually pleaded guilty to the charges of Possession with Intent to Distribute
Methamphetamine (21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C), and on May 11, 2018, he was
sentenced to 240 months incarceration. See CR ECF Nos. 19–20, 45.
In connection with Petitioner’s husband’s arrest, the Drug Enforcement
Administration (“DEA”) also moved to administratively forfeit the truck. Motion to
Dismiss at 2. Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 983(a) and 19 U.S.C. § 1607(a), on November 8,
The Government’s Appendix supports that Petitioner’s husband conducted the drug
transaction in a 2012 Honda Odyssey and that Petitioner and an infant child were with Petitioner’s
husband in the van. Govt.’s App’x at 12, ECF No. 18.
The Government’s Appendix supports that the cocaine was found in between the baby’s
crib and nightstand and the pistol was located under Petitioner’s mattress. Govt.’s App’x at 12.
2017, the DEA sent written notices of the seizure to all the interested parties, which
included Petitioner. Govt.’s App’x at 1. Pursuant to the forfeiture regulations at 28 C.F.R.
§ 8.9(a), the DEA posted notices of the seizure of the subject property on Forfeiture.gov,
an official internet government forfeiture website, for a period of 30 consecutive days. Id.
at 4. The internet posting and mailed notices of seizure explained that Petitioner had the
option of filing a claim with the DEA Forfeiture Counsel in order to contest the forfeiture
action in United States District Court. Id. at 1–5. The internet posting and mailed notices
of seizure also explained the option of filing a petition for remission or mitigation of
On December 12, 2017, Petitioner filed with the DEA a document entitled,
“Verified Petition of Karla I Hernandez Martinez Seeking Relief from Forfeiture.” Id. at
6. Petitioner sought relief from forfeiture of the truck and throughout four short paragraphs
made various arguments for why she believed the truck should not be forfeited. Id. The
petition included the Notice of Seizure of Property and Initiation of Administrative
Forfeiture Proceeding with a handwritten circle around “Petitions for Remission,” which
the DEA construed as demonstrating the administrative process and remedy selected and
acknowledged by Plaintiff. Id. at 10.
On March 28, 2018, the DEA denied the petition for remission on the basis that it
failed to meet the applicable regulatory requirements. Id. at 11–14. Petitioner, through her
counsel, was notified that “the petition failed to meet the requirements for remission or
mitigation.” Id. at 11. The letter, which stated that the DEA had received the Petition relief
from forfeiture of the truck and informed Petitioner of the DEA’s rejection, was sent by
certified mail, return receipt requested, to Petitioner’s counsel in the matter. Id. The letter,
citing specific C.F.R. sections as bases for the rejection, identified deficiencies in the
petition and provided Petitioner with information regarding her ability to request
reconsideration pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 9.3(j). Id. at 11–14. Namely, the letter noted that
Petitioner drove with her husband to deliver the methamphetamine and that her bedroom
contained large quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine, so Petitioner’s claims of
ignorance were “specious, if not mendacious.” Id. at 13. Petitioner did nothing to remedy
the deficiencies, and on October 15, 2018, the truck was disposed of. Id. at 20.
Approximately one year later, on June 13, 2019, a different attorney submitted a
motion for reconsideration to the DEA on behalf of Petitioner. Id. at 15–19. In this motion,
Petitioner’s new counsel appeared to be operating under a belief that her prior petition had
been denied on March 28, 2019, rather than March 28, 2018. Id. at 16. Although the motion
for reconsideration acknowledged that no request for reconsideration had ever been filed
and that the truck was “disposed” of, Petitioner again asserted her alleged status as an
innocent owner, while acknowledging that she had been in the unseized vehicle while her
husband was arrested with five kilograms of methamphetamine and that numerous illegal
substances had been seized from her homestead. Id. at 16–19. And although submitted by
new counsel, the arguments in Petitioner’s motion for reconsideration were largely the
same as in her earlier petition. Id.
On June 26, 2019, the DEA sent a certified letter to Petitioner’s new counsel in
which the DEA acknowledged receipt of his correspondence regarding the 2015 Toyota
Tundra. Id. at 20–21. This letter advised Petitioner’s new counsel of the untimely nature
of his submission and his apparent mistaken belief that the petition had been denied March
28, 2019, when in fact it had been denied a year earlier such that any reconsideration motion
was now untimely. Id. at 20. After citing the deficiencies, the DEA accordingly advised
that the matter was closed and that the truck had been disposed of as o on October 15, 2018.
Id. at 21. No other motions, requests or communications were received by the DEA from
Petitioner in connection with this matter. Motion to Dismiss at 5.
History of this Litigation
Petitioner filed the instant action titled as “Motion for Return of Property,” on
December 13, 2019. See Mt. for Return of Prop., ECF No. 1. The then-presiding U.S.
Magistrate Judge ordered Petitioner to file a supplement to her Motion to cure certain
deficiencies, which required Petitioner to provide (1) the full legal name of her husband,
(2) his criminal cause number for the case in which he was convicted, and (3) the date of
her husband’s judgment of conviction. ECF No. 4. On January 17, 2020, Petitioner filed
a supplemental motion (which the Court also construes as a supplement to her complaint)
in which she identified her husband’s full legal name and criminal cause number, but she
failed to include her husband’s date of judgment of conviction. Supp. Mt., ECF No. 5.
Petitioner eventually filed an application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, which the
Court granted. ECF No. 11.
Petitioner alleges that the truck that belongs to her. Supp. Mt. at 1. She argues that
there was no evidence that the truck was ever used in an illegal manner for the agents to
have probable cause to confiscate it. Id. Petitioner further alleges that the truck was seized
even though “Petitioner was not involved in any il[l]egal activities that her husband was
forced to do to protect his family from Mexico.” Mt. for Return of Prop. at 1. Petitioner
asserts the seizure of a truck violates her Constitutional Due Process Rights and her Fourth
and Fifth Amendment rights. Id. at 2.
After conducting a preliminary screening, the Court concluded that Defendant
should be served. ECF No. 12. On May 17, 2021, Defendant appeared and filed a 12(b)(1)
Motion to Dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. ECF No. 17. As of the date of this order,
Petitioner has not filed a response. Therefore, the Motion to Dismiss is ripe for review.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides for the dismissal of a case when
a court “lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case.” Home Builders
Ass’n of Miss., Inc. v. City of Madison, Miss., 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998) (citation
omitted). When a motion seeks relief under Rule 12(b)(1) and refers to documents outside
the pleadings in arguing the lack of jurisdiction, the Court may consider these documents.
Shabazz v. United States, No. 4:09-CV-556-Y, 2010 WL 11619572, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Apr.
22, 2010) (Means, J.). Thus, a district court has the power to dismiss for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction on any one of three separate bases: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the
complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint
supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court’s resolution of disputed facts. Williamson
v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 413 (5th Cir. 1981). A district court’s grant of a 12(b)(1) motion
to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction is reviewed de novo. Choice Inc. of Tex. v. Greenstein,
691 F.3d 710, 714 (5th Cir. 2012).
A party seeking to challenge the forfeiture of its property in a judicial forum must
file a claim with the DEA within the deadline set forth in the notice of seizure or, if the
party did not receive a notice letter, then no later than thirty days after the final publication
of the notice of seizure. See 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(2)(B). A claim “need not be made in any
particular form” and need only identify, under oath, (1) the property being claimed, and (2)
the claimant’s interest in that property. Id. § 983(a)(2)(C). The timely filing of a claim
stops all administrative forfeiture proceedings. See 21 C.F.R. § 1316.76(b). The claim is
then transferred to a United States Attorney who must initiate a judicial forfeiture action in
a federal district court within (90) days or return the seized property. See 18 U.S.C. §
982(a)(1). In the subsequent civil forfeiture proceedings, the government bears the burden
of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the property is subject to forfeiture.
Id. § 983(c)(1). If an individual fails to timely file a claim, the property is administratively
forfeited. 19 U.S.C. § 1609.
An individual may also request remission and/or mitigation of the administrative
forfeiture by filing a petition within thirty days of receipt of the notice of seizure. 28 C.F.R.
§ 9.3. A petition must include proof of an individual’s interest in the property and state the
facts and circumstances justifying remission or mitigation. See id. § 9.3(c)(1) (detailing
requisites of all such petitions). Further, “[a]ny factual recitation or documentation of any
type in a petition must be supported by a declaration under penalty of perjury that meets
the requirements of 28 U.S.C. 1746.” 28 C.F.R. § 9.3(c)(2). After a petition is received, a
seizing agency, through its ruling official, investigates its merits. 28 C.F.R. § 9.3(f). The
ruling official then reviews and considers the report and issues a ruling. Id. § 9.3(g). The
DEA has broad discretion in deciding whether to grant a petition. See id. § 9.7(a)(1)
(“Whether the property or a monetary equivalent will be remitted to an owner shall be
determined at the discretion of the ruling official.”). If the ruling official denies the petition,
the petitioner is notified of the reasons for the denial and of the right to submit a request
for reconsideration. Id. § 9.3(i).
But “[o]nce the administrative forfeiture [i]s completed, the district court lack[s]
jurisdiction to review the forfeiture except for failure to comply with procedural
requirements or to comport with due process.” United States v. Schinnell, 80 F.3d 1064,
1069 (5th Cir. 1996); see also Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 475–76 (4th Cir. 1997)
(citing litany of cases before opining that “once the Government initiates forfeiture
proceedings, the district court is divested of jurisdiction”); U.S. (Drug Enf’t Agency) v. One
1987 Jeep Wrangler Auto. VIN No. 2BCCL8132HBS12835, 972 F.2d 472, 479 (2d Cir.
1992) (“[O]nce the administrative process has begun, the district court loses subject matter
jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter . . . .”).
Thus, following the completion of
administrative forfeiture, “the ‘exclusive remedy for seeking to set aside a declaration of
forfeiture’ is a motion showing that the government knew or should have known of the
moving party’s interest in the forfeited property and failed to provide that party with
notice.” Shabazz, 2010 WL 11619572, at *2 (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 983(e)(1)); Scarabin v.
Drug Enf’t Admin., 919 F.2d 337, 338–39 (5th Cir. 1990).
Here, it is undisputed that the administrative forfeiture of the truck has been
completed, so the Court lacks jurisdiction over this action. Schinnell, 80 F.3d at 1069;
Shabazz, 2010 WL 11619572, at *2. Moreover, by previously electing to file a petition for
remission rather than a claim, Petitioner cannot now invoke the judicial process. See Reyna
v. United States, 180 F. App’x 495, 496 (5th Cir. 2006) (affirming dismissal of claim
challenging forfeiture when appellant had failed to file a claim with the forfeiting agency
and instead sought remission). Therefore, Petitioner’s attempt to challenge the forfeiture
of the truck in this action on the grounds that the truck is Petitioner’s property and because
she is an innocent third party must be dismissed because “[j]udicial review on the merits
of an administrative forfeiture is barred . . . when the party elects an administrative remedy
instead of a judicial one.” Scarabin, 919 F.2d at 338. Accordingly, Petitioner’s claims are
not properly before the Court and must be dismissed. See United States v. Hernandez, 911
F.2d 981, 983 (5th Cir. 1990) (affirming dismissal for lack of jurisdiction because
appellant’s “arguments, amounting to a claim that he was deprived of his property without
due process of law, are not properly before us, as the proper place to litigate the legality of
the seizure is in the forfeiture proceeding”). 4
Moreover, having reviewed the record, the Court concludes that “the administrative forum
afforded [Petitioner] the opportunity to raise all objections to the seizure and the lack of a judicial
remedy deprived [her] of nothing.” One 1987 Jeep Wrangler, 972 F.2d at 479. That is, Petitioner
was provided proper notices and an administrative forum to raise objections and seek remission.
The DEA provided Petitioner a detailed letter explaining the connection of the truck to the
underlying offense and demonstrating that Petitioner’s proximity to both undermined her claimed
ignorance of her husband’s illegal activities. Govt.’s App’x at 11–14. The letter further notified
Petitioner that the law afforded her the opportunity to file a motion to reconsider, with certain time
limits. Id. at 14. Petitioner never filed such a motion to reconsider until more than a year had
In light of the foregoing, the Court concludes that the Government’s Motion to
Dismiss should be and hereby is GRANTED and this case should be and hereby is
DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction.
SO ORDERED on this 15th day of July 2021.
passed—far beyond the time provided by law. Thus, although Petitioner does not appear to contest
the forfeiture proceeding or her receipt of notice thereof, having reviewed the Government’s
Appendix, the Court concludes that any procedural argument by Petitioner fails. See Shabazz,
2010 WL 11619572, at *2.
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