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UNITED STATES v. ONE HANDBAG OF CROCODILUS SPECIES

June 25, 1994

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ONE HANDBAG OF CROCODILUS SPECIES and TWO HANDBAGS OF CAIMAN CROCODILUS YACARE, Defendants. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, v. THIRTY-FIVE HANDBAGS OF CAIMAN CROCODILUS YACARE AND ONE HANDBAG OF MELANOSUCHUS NIGER, Defendants. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, v. THIRTEEN HANDBAGS OF CAIMAN CROCODILUS YACARE; TWO CAIMAN CROCODILUS YACARE BELTS; ONE HANDBAG OF CROCODILUS SPECIES AND ALLIGATOR MISSISSIPPIENSIS; AND TWO HANDBAGS OF VARANUS SPECIES, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENIS R. HURLEY

 HURLEY, District Judge

 NATURE OF PROCEEDING

 The United States seeks forfeiture of each of the seized defendant properties listed in the three captioned actions, which total fifty-seven items. The plaintiff seeks forfeiture of these items under Section 11(e)(4)(A) of the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1540(e)(4)(A). *fn1"

 Plaintiff contends that defendant products are subject to forfeiture because they were manufactured from hides of crocodilians designated as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and/or because the items were improperly identified on their relevant Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species ("CITES") importation certificates.

 The claimant, J.S. Suarez, Inc., imported, and claims ownership of the defendant properties. As such, it seeks their return, arguing that forfeiture does not properly lie because of, inter alia, due process violations and plaintiff's failure to establish grounds for forfeiture. More particularly, the claimant has framed six issues for the Court's consideration, the resolution of which, it maintains, requires that the seized items be returned to the claimant. Those six issues are set forth on page 19 of claimant's post-trial Memorandum of Law, and are as follows:

 1. Is the identification of products alleged to be made from caiman crocodilus yacare ("yacare") too uncertain to constitute notice of the violation adequate for due process?

 3. Did the government lack probable cause to seize this merchandise?

 4. Did the government fail to demonstrate probable cause for forfeiture of this merchandise?

 5. Did the Claimant prove by a preponderance of evidence of geographical origin that the merchandise was not made from the subspecies yacare?

 6. In the alternative, if the merchandise is subject to forfeiture, did the Claimant establish a good-faith defense?

 TRIAL TESTIMONY

 By way of a brief synopsis, the following testimony was presented to the Court during the course of the non-jury consolidated trial:

 1. Testimony of John Meehan.

 John Meehan, a Special Agent of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service ("USFWS") testified that the defendant products were detained by USFWS inspectors and, following their examination by Peter Brazaitis, ultimately seized, based on the belief that they had been imported in violation of CITES and/or the Endangered Species Act.

 2. Testimony of Peter Brazaitis.

 Mr. Brazaitis testified as a herpetologist, i.e., a specialist in the study of reptiles and amphibians. His specific field of expertise is the identification of crocodilians. At the request of the USFWS, he examined the products which Special Agent Meehan had ordered detained, and determined that fifty-two were manufactured, at least in part, from skins taken from yacare, an endangered crocodilian subspecies. In addition, he identified one item as having been ...


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