The opinion of the court was delivered by: TROUTMAN
American courts, as dispute resolution forums, place upon litigants the burden to persuade.
Often this jurisprudential system forces judges, as arbiters, to rule in favor of either one litigant who urges strict, literal or general application of a law or legal principle as opposed to another litigant who pleads for a spirited or broad interpretation or a specific exception thereto.
In some situations the accepted legal principle clashes with the equities thereof and produces seemingly inhumanitarian results.
Other times, as in the case sub judice, the legal principle struggles with logic, precedent and uncertainty. Presently, plaintiff seeks remission of her forfeited automobile, seized in connection with a drug investigation and arrest of her husband. She argues that logic suggests that her lack of involvement in his illegal conduct renders the forfeiture unduly and unfairly oppressive. The Government, moving to dismiss, contends that precedent firmly establishes that the merits of the Attorney General's decision to deny remittance cannot be reviewed by the Court, and hence, it lacks jurisdiction. The element of uncertainty has been supplied by two Supreme Court decisions which can be read to imply an exception to this judicially, not statutorily, conceived notion.
The common law recognized forfeiture in both civil and criminal cases, and early American law included such statutes,
although the law "abhors"
forfeitures and considers then "odious",
the innocence or good faith of the property owner cannot be asserted as a defense.
As a matter of fact, the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended,
affords the Attorney General exclusive authority to remit a forfeiture. His discretion must be exercised within the admittedly broad command of the statute.
Although the Court may direct him to consider the merits of a petition,
it has no jurisdiction to review his exercise of discretion.
it would be difficult to reject the constitutional claim of an owner whose property subjected to forfeiture had been taken from him without his privity or consent.
The Court also recognized another exception, where the owner alleged that he was not involved in or aware of the illegal behavior and that he had done all that he reasonably could have been expected to do to prevent the offensive use of his property.
In both situations the Court opined that "it would be difficult to conclude that forfeiture served legitimate purposes and was not unduly oppressive".
Accordingly, where the property owner includes such allegations the Court apparently has jurisdiction to review the Fifth Amendment constitutional claim.
In the case at bar, plaintiff alleged only that she had "no knowledge or information whatsoever of the use of her motor vehicle for the purposes of the transportation of any narcotic or controlled substance, or any other contraband".
In light of Calero-Toledo, to withstand a motion to dismiss, plaintiff must also include an allegation that she did all that she reasonably could have been expected to do to prevent the illegal use of her automobile. In the "interests of justice" plaintiff will be afforded an opportunity to amend the complaint.
An appropriate order denying the Government's motions ...