The opinion of the court was delivered by: CAHN
The United States ("Government") brought a civil forfeiture action pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(7) (1994) against real property located at 2930 Greenleaf Street in Allentown, Pennsylvania ("the property"). Doretta Lancon ("Claimant") asserts an ownership interest in the property and contests the forfeiture on the grounds that she is an innocent owner. Currently before the court is the Government's Motion for Summary Judgment on this claim. Jurisdiction is based on 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (1994). For the reasons stated below, the Government's motion is granted.
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The following facts are not in dispute. On September 1, 1993, the Government commenced a civil forfeiture action against the property. The Government alleged that the property was used by Claimant's former husband, Francis Lancon, in the illegal distribution of a controlled substance during 1990 and 1991, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 (1994), and was therefore subject to forfeiture pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(7).
A title search conducted by the Government on September 2, 1993 revealed that the title was in the name of Francis Lancon. This search also disclosed that there was a judgment of $ 9,164.50 entered on June 26, 1992 in favor of Claimant. The Government filed a lis pendens which was recorded on September 3, 1993 in the records of the Lehigh County Recorder of Deeds and the Lehigh County Prothonotary. On September 8, 1993 the warrant of arrest was served on the property. Notice of the Government's intent to forfeit the property was published in the Allentown Morning Call on September 15, 22, and 29, 1993.
The Government sent Francis Lancon a written notice of its intent to forfeit the property. Asserting an ownership interest in the property, Francis Lancon filed a verified claim and answer to the complaint on September 13, 1993. On November 23, 1993, Francis Lancon executed a deed purportedly conveying his interest to Claimant for one dollar.
In March and April 1994, Claimant contacted the United States Marshal's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to request a key to the property and to request that the Government pay some municipal tax and service bills due on the property. In response, the Government sent a letter on April 22, 1994 to Claimant advising her of the civil forfeiture action against the property and suggesting that she obtain counsel.
On July 13, 1994, Claimant's counsel sent a letter to the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania stating that she represented Claimant. In response, on July 18, 1994, the Government sent Claimant's counsel a copy of the lis pendens and of the public notices published in the Allentown Morning Call. On July 15, 1994, Claimant filed two verified claims wherein she claimed to be the owner of the property and also a lienholder. Claimant never filed an answer to the complaint.
On March 13, 1995, this court entered an order forfeiting the property to the Government in accordance with the signed Stipulation of Settlement and Consent Judgment between Francis Lancon and the Government. The Government sent a copy of that stipulation to Claimant's counsel.
On August 10, 1995, Claimant filed a pro se Motion for Return of Seized Property Pursuant to Rule 41(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Claimant alleges that she is the owner of the property because she obtained the deed to the property in a child support settlement in November of 1993. Claimant further asserts that Francis Lancon orally conveyed the property to her in 1989.
At the September 7, 1995 hearing
on the motion for summary judgment, the Government did not dispute Claimant's entitlement to payment of her $ 9,164.00 judgment lien on the property. The Government agreed that the proceeds of the sale of the property would go to the payment of this lien and the statutory interest accruing therefrom. Upon being informed by the Government that the property was under an agreement of sale, this court entered an order on September 21, 1995 permitting the sale of the property but stating that the balance of the proceeds, after payment of Claimant's lien and other costs, would be held in escrow as a substitute for the property pending the disposition of Claimant's claim.
The Government argues that its Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted on three grounds: (1) Claimant has failed to timely file a claim and answer as required by Supplemental Rule C(6); (2) the Government has established that there was probable cause to believe that the property was subject to forfeiture; and (3) Claimant does not have any defensible ownership interest in the property. (Gov't's Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 5, 13, 15.) This court finds that Claimant has no standing to contest this forfeiture action because of her failure to conform to the procedural requirements of Supplemental Rule C(6) and her lack of ownership interest in the property. Therefore, it is unnecessary to address the Government's probable cause argument.
Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). All inferences must be drawn and all doubts resolved in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176, 82 S. Ct. 993 ...