of the doctrine of equitable estoppel. (2), the claimants contend that their testimony establishes the illegal use of the car as contemplated by Section 782 of Title 49 U.S.C. and that the use of an automobile without the consent of the owner is a criminal offense under the Motor Vehicle Laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 75 P.S. § 231. Finally, (3), that the evidence adduced by the Government was insufficient to establish probable cause for the confiscation and forfeiture of the automobile.
I am not at all impressed with the first two contentions of the claimants. I do not feel that the facts here call for the application of the doctrine of equitable estoppel, nor do I feel that the claimants have met the burden imposed upon them of establishing actual unlawful use of the automobile. As to the third and final contention that the Government has failed to establish probable cause for the confiscation and forfeiture of the automobile, I feel the authorities support the position of the claimants. They cite in support of their contention, United States v. One 1952 Ford Victoria, D.C., 114 F.Supp. 458, 460; United States v. One 1949 Ford Sedan, D.C., 96 F.Supp. 341, and Platt v. United States, 10 Cir., 163 F.2d 165.
In the 1949 Ford Sedan case, supra, somewhat similar in facts to the instant case, an automobile owner loaned his automobile to his brother without knowledge that the brother was a narcotic peddler. The brother, as here, drove off in the automobile with the money which he received from the buyer to pay for drugs which were to be delivered later at a designated place. The court in that case refused forfeiture of the automobile.
In the Platt case, supra, the Court of Appeals reversed a decree of forfeiture where a mother loaned her car to her daughter, a known addict, who used the car to go to a drug store where she obtained contraband drugs. The mother did not know that the daughter's purpose in using the car was to obtain contraband drugs.
In the recent case of United States v. One 1951 Oldsmobile Sedan, D.C., 129 F.Supp. 321, this Court stated as follows:
'Where an automobile is used to lessen the burden or to assist in the task of executing the illegal transaction, even though the drug is never in the automobile, it 'facilitates' the sale or transportation within the meaning of the statute; where, however, the automobile is not in actuality a part of the transaction it does not 'facilitate' within the meaning of the statute.'
That language, which the Court believes to be a correct statement of the rule, would be applicable to the instant case, if, under the facts as I have set them forth above, Gaskins was the owner of the automobile. But he was not.
It appears to the Court that the instant case is governed by the two cases above discussed, viz., the 1949 Ford Sedan and the Platt cases. We have here a situation where the Government asks the Court to determine as a matter of fact that the automobile was used within the terms of the statute to either 'transport' or 'facilitate' the sale of the narcotics. It is just as reasonable to assume that Gaskins used public transportation, as that he used the automobile here in question. His demand for excess 'transportation costs' is more consistent with the use of public transportation than with the use of the automobile here in question. We are not dealing with an automobile owned by Gaskins. Innocent persons, the claimants herein, would suffer by a decree of forfeiture in this action. It appears to me from all of the testimony that the Government has failed to establish probable cause for the confiscation and forfeiture of the automobile and, therefore, its libel should be dismissed.
The statement of facts and conclusions of law set forth above may be considered as the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law of the Court in this case.
Requests for Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law have been submitted by the Government and by the claimants.
The Court affirms the Government's Requests for Findings of Fact Nos. 1 to 6 inclusive. The Court denies Request No. 7.
The Court affirms the Government's Requests for Conclusions of Law Nos. 1 to 9 inclusive. The Court denies Requests Nos. 10, 11 and 12.
The Court affirms Claimants' Requests for Findings of Fact Nos. 1 to 12 inclusive.
The Court affirms Claimants' Requests for Conclusions of Law Nos. 1 to 6 inclusive, and Requests Nos. 9 and 10. The Court denies Requests Nos. 7 and 8.
An appropriate order may be submitted.
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