The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leisure, District Judge.
Plaintiff pro se Hipolito Uvidalis Pimentel seeks the return
of property allegedly seized by defendant United States Drug
Enforcement Administration (the "DEA"). Both parties have moved
for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, each motion is
granted in part and denied in part.
Plaintiff, his wife Wanda, and their two children resided at
2752 East 66th Street, Brooklyn, New York, between 1987 and 1991.
See Pimentel Dep. at 12-13, 19-20. From 1987 to 1990, plaintiff
worked as a freelance limousine driver, using his Lincoln Towncar
to transport passengers between his Brooklyn neighborhood and
flights to and from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. See
id. at 21-22.
In January 1990, DEA special agents investigating plaintiffs
alleged participation in a narcotics trafficking scheme began
surveillance of his residence. Based on information from a
confidential informant, on January 18, 1990, the Honorable Carol
Bagley Amon, United States Magistrate Judge for the United States
District Court for the Eastern District of New York, issued a
warrant authorizing the search of plaintiff's home. See Search
Warrant, dated Jan. 18, 1990 (attached as Exh. A. to Letter from
Sarah Thomas, Esq. to the Court, dated July 20, 1999 (the "Thomas
letter")). The warrant authorized the seizure of, inter alia,
heroin, narcotics paraphernalia, money, narcotics, financial
records, "and any other property, documents, or things that
constitute direct evidence of the commission of, or are designed
or intended as a means of the violation of, or are contraband or
the fruit of the violation of the federal narcotics laws." Id.
The next day, January 19, 1990, approximately ten special
agents assigned to DEA Group 23 executed the search warrant.
See Rubinstein Decl. ¶ 4; Pimentel Dep. at 28. Although
plaintiff was not present when the DEA agents first arrived, the
agents located him on 56th Avenue in Brooklyn and brought him to
his home for questioning. See Pimentel Dep. at 28-29;
Rubinstein Decl., Exh. A. Following the interview, plaintiff and
his wife were arrested and transported to a nearby police
station, where they were finger-printed, photographed, and placed
in a cell. See id.
While plaintiff and his wife were incarcerated, DEA agents
continued to search their residence and confiscated various
articles of property. The Report of Investigation, DEA Form 6,
prepared by Special Agent Kenneth J. Dinino, lists the following
seized property: three automobiles (a 1989 Jeep Cherokee, a 1988
Lincoln Town Car, and a 1975 Mercedes Benz), a cardboard box
containing .9 mm and .357 caliber ammunition, photographs of
plaintiff and other people, a brown letter wallet with
miscellaneous business cards, three telephone and address books,
and miscellaneous papers and identification documents belonging
plaintiff, including his Florida driver's license, Social
Security card, Resident Alien card, Selective Service
Certificate, Dominican registration voting card, and automobile
registration and insurance cards. See Rubinstein Decl., Exh. A.
All of the aforementioned property was stored by the DEA's New
York Field Division. See id. ¶ 7.
At approximately 4:00 p.m. that same day, plaintiff and his
wife were released from custody and returned to their home. See
Pimentel Dep. at 28. Evidently, the Assistant United States
Attorney responsible for their case had declined to prosecute
them based on the results of the search. When plaintiff returned
home, however, he allegedly discovered that the DEA agents had
taken additional property not listed in the Report of
Investigation. Specifically, he claims that the agents seized
"Assorted Jewelry, including Gold rings, watches, bracelets, and
necklaces . . . [m]ost . . . of which contained diamonds,"
wedding video tapes, his pre-nuptual agreement, and a wedding
album. See Compl. ¶ 10(1)-(4), 15(4)-(7); Pimentel Dep. at
28-29. He also attests that the agents did not provide him with
an inventory report of the items that they confiscated. See Pl.
Traverse at 3; Pimentel Dep. at 31. Several days later, plaintiff
hired an attorney in an attempt to retrieve what was taken. See
id. at 30-31. But the attorney reported back to him that the DEA
would not return his property. See id. at 31.
This was not the end of plaintiff's troubles with law
enforcement. In July 1990, the Manhattan North Narcotics Unit of
New York Police Department (the "NYPD"), in conjunction with DEA
Group 33, initiated a second investigation of plaintiff. See
Pl. Traverse, Exh. A-3. On May 15, 1991, the NYPD arrested
plaintiff and his wife for their participation in a conspiracy to
distribute heroin. See Thomas Decl. ¶ 5. Plaintiff claims that
during the search incident to this arrest, DEA agents seized
$2,400 in United States currency. See Compl. ¶ 13, 15(16); Pl.
Traverse at 4. He and his wife were charged with, and eventually
pleaded guilty to, federal charges of conspiracy to distribute
narcotics in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and
841(b)(1)(A). See Compl. ¶ 12, 14. On July 7, 1994, plaintiff
was sentenced to 120 months imprisonment and five years of
supervised release. See id. ¶ 14.
Now incarcerated, plaintiff filed the instant action in October
1996. By his Complaint, plaintiff seeks an order directing the
DEA to return his property forthwith and asks the Court to grant
such other relief that it deems appropriate. See Compl. ¶ 20,
22. Although the Complaint itself is undated, an affidavit
annexed to it is dated October 10, 1996. See Thomas Decl. ¶ 7.
The Complaint was stamped "Received" by the Pro Se Clerk's
Office on October 15, 1996. See Compl. at 1. The Clerk of the
Court issued a summons on November 29, 1996, and the Complaint
was subsequently served. See Thomas Decl. ¶ 7.
On May 14, 1999, the DEA moved for summary judgment on various
grounds, depending on the particular article allegedly seized. In
response to the motion, plaintiff served and filed a traverse, in
which he opposed the DEA's motion, asserting the existence of
genuine issues of material fact. See Pl. Traverse at 1, 27-28.
Alternatively, plaintiff requested that the Court grant summary
judgment in his favor and order the DEA to release the
seized property or compensate him with its full and fair market
value. See id.
I. Standard for Summary Judgment
A moving party is entitled to summary judgment 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Holt v.
KMI-Continental, Inc., 95 F.3d 123, 128 (2d Cir. 1996). The
burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that no genuine
issue of material fact exists. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co.,
398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970); Gallo
v. Prudential Residential Servs. L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223-24 (2d
Cir. 1994). "In moving for summary judgment against a party who
will bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial, the movant's
burden will be satisfied if he can point to an absence of
evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's
claim." Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Found.,
51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995).
In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court's function
is not to try issues of fact, but instead to determine whether
there remain any such issues to try. See Sutera v. Schering
Corp., 73 F.3d 13, 15-16 (2d Cir. 1995). In doing so, the Court
must resolve all ambiguities and draw all justifiable inferences
in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986);
see also Holt, 95 F.3d at 129. However, the substantive law
governing the case will identify those facts that are material,
and "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of
the suit under the governing law will preclude the entry of
summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.
"A `genuine' dispute over a material fact only arises if the
evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for
the nonmoving party." Dister v. Continental Group,
859 F.2d 1108, 1112 (2d Cir. 1988) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248,
106 S.Ct. 2505). Thus, the nonmoving party "must do more than
simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).
"Mere speculation or conjecture" will not suffice, Western World
Ins. Co. v. Stack Oil Inc., 922 F.2d 118, 121 (2d Cir. 1990),
nor will "reliance on unsupported assertions," Goenaga, 51 F.3d
at 18. Rather, the nonmoving party must provide "concrete
evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in
[her] favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505.
In this case, both parties seek summary judgment. When faced
with cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court is not
obligated to grant summary judgment for one side or the other.
See Association of Int'l Auto. Mfrs., Inc. v. Abrams,
84 F.3d 602, 611 (2d Cir. 1996); Heublein, Inc. v. United States,
996 F.2d 1455, 1461 (2d Cir. 1993). "Rather, the court must evaluate
each party's motion on its own merits, taking care in each
instance to draw all reasonable inferences against the party
whose motion is under consideration." Schwabenbauer v. Board of
Educ., 667 F.2d 305, 314 (2d Cir. 1981).
Finally, a pro se plaintiff is entitled to have his or her
pleadings held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521, 92
S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972) (per curiam); see also Hogarth
v. New York City Health & Hosps. Corp., No. 97 Civ. 0625, 2000
WL 375242, *3 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 12, 2000). As such, the pleadings of
a pro se plaintiff must be read liberally and interpreted "to
raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Burgos v.
Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d
Cir. 1994). Nonetheless, the fact that plaintiff is proceeding
pro se does not otherwise relieve him from the usual
requirements of summary judgment. See ...