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
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
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.
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
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.
B. CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE REFORM ACT
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
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