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UNITED STATES v. 281 SYOSSET WOODBURY RD.

May 14, 1992

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
PREMISES KNOWN AS 281 SYOSSET WOODBURY ROAD, WOODBURY, NEW YORK, A PARCEL OF REAL PROPERTY AND ALL APPURTENANCES THERETO, LYING IN NASSAU COUNTY, NEW YORK, SAID PROPERTY BEING TITLED IN THE NAME OF LYDIA CAMIOLA, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: I. LEO GLASSER

 GLASSER, United States District Judge:

 In this forfeiture action, the claimant has moved for leave to file a supplemental answer and to file an intervenor complaint on behalf of her minor children; the government has cross-moved to strike the claim already filed by the claimant on behalf of the children. For the reasons set forth below, the motions of the claimant to file a supplemental answer and to file an intervenor complaint are granted in part and denied in part, and the motion of the government is granted.

 FACTS

 On May 1, 1990, the United States brought this action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to forfeit certain premises known as 281 Syosset-Woodbury Road located in Woodbury, New York (the "defendant property" or the "defendant"), $ 160,800.00 in United States currency, and a 1988 Jaguar automobile. The forfeiture action was related to a criminal drug-trafficking indictment against John Camiola. On June 15, 1990, the government served a verified complaint in rem on Lydia Camiola (the "claimant"); she holds title to the defendant property. Lydia Camiola filed a claim to the defendant on May 22, 1990; however, she did not subsequently file an answer to the complaint. On July 24, 1990, after Lydia Camiola failed to file an answer and after no other person filed a claim or answer, the clerk of the court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania noted a default in the action. On August 6, 1990, Lydia Camiola moved through counsel to vacate the default as to the defendant property (but not as to the currency or as to the automobile). She represented to the court that she had failed to file a timely answer to the complaint because she had not earlier had the benefit of counsel; the government did not oppose her motion. Accordingly, on August 30, 1990, the court vacated the default and directed the claimant to file an answer within ten days.

 In the fall of 1990, the case was transferred to this court. After that, Lydia Camiola was not represented by counsel until the appointment of her present attorney on October 1, 1991. Shortly thereafter, the claimant moved to file a supplemental answer and to file an intervenor complaint on behalf of her four children (aged approximately 17, 12, 8, and 2 years). While that motion was still pending, Lydia Camiola filed on February 28, 1992 a claim to the defendant premises on behalf of her four children; she has not yet filed an answer on their behalf. The government moves to strike this claim as untimely filed.

 DISCUSSION

 1. The Claim on Behalf of the Claimant's Minor Children

 The government has moved to dismiss the claim filed by the claimant on behalf of her minor children on the grounds that the children lack standing to challenge the forfeiture action and that their claim is untimely filed. The government first argues that the claimant's children lack standing to challenge this forfeiture action because they do not have an ownership interest in the defendant property. However, "a claimant need not own the property in order to have standing to contest its forfeiture; a lesser property interest, such as a possessory interest, is sufficient for standing." United States v. $ 38,000.00 in United States Currency, 816 F.2d 1538, 1544 (11th Cir. 1987); see also United States v. $ 134,752 United States Currency, 706 F. Supp. 1075, 1081 (S.D.N.Y. 1989) ("It is well established that a possessory interest in the res is sufficient to confer standing upon a claimant."). Under New York law, the family members of the owner of real property have a possessory interest in the property -- at least if they reside with the owner. As stated in United States v. Leasehold Interest in 121 Nostrand Avenue, 760 F. Supp. 1015, 1035 (E.D.N.Y. 1991):

 
Here, . . . Smith is the 'owner' of the leasehold. The remaining seventeen members of her family are entitled to possess, use and occupy the premises both as a consequence of her ownership and their residence. See Clarke v. Morris, 46 Misc.2d 476, 477, 259 N.Y.S.2d 539, 540-41 (Civ.Ct.N.Y. County 1965).

 Thus, because the mother of the children owns the defendant property, the children have a possessory interest in the defendant; because they have a possessory interest in the defendant, the children have standing to contest the forfeiture. However, it is also reasonably clear that the possessory interest of a child only exists through the ownership interest of the parent; as such, the child's possessory interest is coextensive with the ownership interest of the parent. Clarke v. Morris, 46 Misc. 2d 476, 259 N.Y.S.2d 539, 540-41 (Civ.Ct.N.Y. County 1965) ("[Tenants' daughter] and her children . . . were part of the family unit of the tenants, and as such were entitled to possession, use and occupancy of the apartment.") (emphasis added). In other words, the Camiola children may not assert their possessory interest in the defendant property unless Lydia Camiola herself has a valid ownership interest in the defendant. Hence, any claim asserted by the children can be no greater than that of their mother.

 The second argument of the government to strike the claim made on behalf of the children is that the claim was untimely filed and that they therefore lack statutory standing to challenge the forfeiture. The timeliness of a claim to an in rem defendant is governed by Rule C(6) of the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims. That rule provides, in relevant part:

 
The claimant of property that is the subject of an action in rem shall file a claim within 10 days after process has been executed, or within such additional time as may be allowed by the court, and shall serve an answer within 20 days after the filing of the claim.

 The government correctly points out that failure by a potential claimant to comply with the time limitations set forth in Rule C(6) operates to deny the potential claimant statutory standing to contest forfeiture and constitutes a basis on which to strike the answer of a purported claimant. See, e.g., United States v. $ 2,875.00, 754 F.2d 208, 213 (7th Cir. 1985) ("Once the procedural requirements of Rule C(6) are met, a claimant has standing to defend the forfeiture."). However, as the plain language of Rule C(6) indicates, the district court has discretion to extend the time within which a claim and an answer must be filed and thereby to allow a potential claimant to contest a forfeiture action after the time in which to do so has expired. United States v. 1982 Yukon Delta Houseboat, 77 ...


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