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U.S. v. 2001 HONDA ACCORD EX VIN #1HGCG22561A035829

January 30, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard P. Conaboy, United States District Judge


This case arises out of a civil forfeiture action brought by the United States against Defendant vehicle, a 2001 Honda Accord EX VIN #1HGCG22561A035829 ("the Honda"), for its alleged use in facilitating the transportation and sale of methylene-dioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), otherwise known as Ecstasy. (Doc. 1). The matter before the Court is Claimant Kimberly A. Marckesano's ("Marckesano" or "Claimant") Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Motion has been fully briefed by the parties. A hearing was held on this matter on January 22, 2003. The Motion for Summary Judgment is ripe for disposition.

This Memorandum and Order will also address Claimant's Motion to Amend the Pleadings pursuant to Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Claimant made this Motion during the hearing on the Summary Judgment Motion.

For the reasons stated herein, Claimant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED and Claimant's Motion to Amend the Pleadings is GRANTED.


On October 19, 2001, Michael Mase ("Mase") attempted to deliver and sell to an undercover Pennsylvania State Police Trooper one thousand (1,000) tablets of Ecstasy in exchange for $9,000. (Doc. 15, at 1). Mase drove the Honda, which is now the subject of the in rem proceeding, to a designated location in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, to complete the transaction. (Id.) Mase was immediately arrested upon showing to the Trooper the tablets and Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") agents seized the Honda. (Id., at 2). The tablets were confiscated and laboratory analysis later confirmed that they were Ecstasy. (Id., at 1).

On November 27, 2001, a federal grand jury sitting in Scranton returned an indictment that charged Mase with two counts of possession with intent to distribute and distribution of Ecstasy in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). On March 5, 2002, Mase pleaded guilty to Count II of the Indictment. (Id., at 2).

Marckesano filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on September 30, 2002. (Doc. 9). In this Motion, she asserts that as an "innocent owner," she is entitled to recover the Honda. (Id.). In its supplemental brief, the Government submits that summary judgment is improper since there is a genuine issue in this case on two material facts: (1) legal ownership of the vehicle; and (2) dominion and control over the vehicle. (Doc. 22).



In our analysis of this matter we keep in mind the various cases that direct us regarding summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment can be a very powerful motion. It is a legal method of totally resolving a case without a trial based on a review of pleadings and submissions of the parties. Granting summary judgment is appropriate in cases where there are no significant facts in dispute. Because of the finality of granting a summary judgment motion, we must carefully examine the case and supporting documents along with the submissions from the Plaintiff who hopes to keep his case alive. Federal Rule 56 is a mechanism for "asses[ing] the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) advisory committee's notes (amended 1963).

Summary judgment is somewhat controversial and can be seen as upsetting the precarious balance between expediency and the preservation of our Seventh Amendment*fn1 right to jury trial. Thus, we are vigilant and careful not to use it to preclude a party's right to trial or as a vehicle to simply move the case more quickly through the judicial system.

We follow considerable guidance in determining whether summary judgment should be granted. Summary judgment is proper "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 judgment as a matter of law." See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n. 4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-8, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986) (emphasis in original).

These rules make it clear that in order for a moving party to prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the party must show two things: (a) that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and (b) that the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). This instructs us that a fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence would effect the outcome of the lawsuit under the law applicable to the case. Id. at 248; Levendos v. Stern Entertainment Inc., 860 F.2d 1227, 1233 (3d Cir. 1988). We are further instructed that an issue of material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348 (1986); Hankins v. Temple University, 829 F.2d 437, 440 (3d Cir. 1987); Equimark Commercial Finance Co. v. C.I.T. Financial Services Corp., 812 F.2d 141, 144 (3d Cir. 1987).

Under this regimen that we follow, the Court is required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Consistent with this principle, the non-movant's evidence must be accepted as true and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the non-movant's favor. J.F. Feeser, Inc. v. Serv-A-Portion, Inc., 909 F.2d 1524, 1531 (3d Cir. 1990). However, the non-moving party may not rest on the bare allegations contained in his or her pleadings.

The Government asserts that the credibility of Claimant and her witnesses raises factual issues which preclude summary judgment. In its Second Supplemental Brief in Opposition to Claimant's Motion for Summary Judgment, the Government properly argues that the Court should not make pure credibility decisions at a hearing on summary judgment. (Doc. 27, at 1-2). The Government, in its own citations however, points out that an opponent to a motion for summary judgment cannot prevail merely by discrediting the credibility of the movant's evidence. (Id., at 2). Rather, it must produce some affirmative evidence on point. The nonmoving party is required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e)*fn2 to go beyond the pleadings by way of affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). When Rule 56(e) shifts the burden of proof to the non-moving party, that party must produce evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case which it bears the burden of proving at trial. Equimark Commercial Finance Co. v. C.I.T. Financial Services Corp., 812 F.2d 141, 144 (3d Cir. 1987).

When the question for decision concerns drawing inferences from undisputed evidence, or interpreting and evaluating evidence to derive legal conclusions, a trial may not add to the Court's ability to decide. Such is the case here.


On April 25, 2000, Congress passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 ("CAFRA"), Pub.L. No. 106-185, 114 Stat. 202, to address concerns associated with federal civil forfeitures. Since the Government commenced this action after August 23, 2000, the date on which CAFRA became effective, CAFRA applies to this case.

CAFRA overhauled the procedures for civil judicial forfeiture proceedings. Significantly, the Government now has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture. See 18 U.S.C. § 983(c)(1). Once the Government makes this showing, the burden shifts to the claimant. The claimant may choose to assert the "innocent owner defense."*fn3 See 18 U.S.C. § 983(d)(1). "Innocent ownership" remains an affirmative defense, as it was under all previously enacted forfeiture statutes, notwithstanding the fact that CAFRA now shifts the initial burden to the Government in its case-in-chief.

As a threshold matter, for the claimant to have standing*fn4 to assert this defense, the claimant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she has a legal interest in the property in accordance with state ...

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