The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge
Plaintiff, Huseyin Can ("Can"), was arrested on drug charges by officers from the Greater Rochester Area Narcotics Enforcement Team ("GRANET") at the Monroe County, New York Airport on May 27, 2004. GRANET officers seized $27,073.00 from Can, which was turned over to the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA"), and administratively forfeited to that agency on November 8, 2004 pursuant to 21 U.S.C. §881, under the procedural guidance of 18 U.S.C. §983 and 19 U.S.C. §§1602-1619.
On September 23, 2009, more than five years after the initial seizure of the money at the airport, Can, represented by counsel, filed a complaint and moved pursuant to FED. R. CRIM. PROC. 41(g) to vacate the administrative order of forfeiture, and for return of the monies.
The Government opposes the motion and has cross moved to dismiss the complaint (Dkt. #7) on several grounds, including that Can's claim is untimely, the statute of limitations for such actions having run prior to commencement of this lawsuit. The Government also contends that Can, in fact, learned of the administrative proceedings long prior to the administrative forfeiture, failed to take appropriate action to seek return of the money, and is therefore precluded from seeking relief now.
After review of all the materials submitted, I agree with the Government's position, and grant its motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice.
The Government cites several grounds for the dismissal of plaintiff's complaint. First of all, Can seeks relief under FED. R. CRIM. P. 41(g), which pertains to the return of personal property improperly seized by the Government. Reliance on that section is misplaced. Can is attempting to set aside an administrative forfeiture, the procedure for which is contained in the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 ("CAFRA") at 18 U.S.C. §983. Section 983(e)(5) expressly provides that: "[a] motion filed under this subsection shall be the exclusive remedy for seeking to set aside a declaration of forfeiture under a civil forfeiture statute." 18 U.S.C. §983 (emphasis added).
The exclusivity of Section 983 as the remedy for setting aside a non-judicial declaration of forfeiture is well-settled. See Valderrama v. United States, 417 F.3d 1189 (11th Cir. 2005); Hayes v. United States, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60995(S.D.N.Y. 2009); Bermudez v. City of New York Police Department, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61556 (S.D.N.Y. 2008).*fn1
Although the Government contends that Can is not entitled to the protections of CAFRA because he had actual notice of the forfeiture proceedings and failed to take timely action concerning them, even if Can is entitled to proceed, the Government contends that the action is untimely, having been filed beyond the five year statute of limitations.
I agree with the Government that the statute of limitations has run on this action. The statute provides that a motion to set aside a declaration of administrative forfeiture must be filed not later than five years after the date of final publication of the notice of seizure of the property. 18 U.S.C. § 983(e)(3). According to the affidavit of John Hieronymus ("Hieronymus"), Forfeiture Counsel Drug Enforcement Administration, sworn to October 21, 2009, the final publication of the notice of seizure was made in the Wall Street Journal, pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1607(a), once a week for three successive weeks, August 9, 16, and 23, 2004. (Dkt. #7-2 at ¶4(d)). The complaint in this federal action was not filed until September 23, 2009, one month after the five year statute of limitations expired. Can's failure to file this complaint within the five years statute of limitations requires that the complaint be dismissed. See Hayes, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60995 at *26.
Can's failure to bring this action within the statute of limitations provides a basis for dismissal of the complaint upon that ground alone. However, I find that even if the action were timely, Can would not be entitled to relief, because the evidence establishes that Can knew of the administrative forfeiture proceedings and failed to take timely action to oppose the forfeiture.
According to Hieronymus, the DEA sent proper notices to Can's last known address at 1119 English Village Drive, Rochester, New York. The DEA made three delivery attempts, each of which was unsuccessful. The DEA later learned that there was a possibility Can and his family might have left the country and returned to Turkey, and in August of 2004, the notice of seizure was published in the Wall Street Journal pursuant to 19 U.S.C. §1607(a) and 21 C.F.R. §1316.75. Shortly thereafter, on October 4, 2004, the DEA received a written claim for the seized monies from attorney Miguel A. Reyes, Rochester, New York, on Can's behalf. (Dkt. #7-2 at ¶4).
That letter from attorney Reyes, dated September 29, 2004, is notable in several respects. First of all, the letter clearly states that Can makes claim to the money seized from him at the airport in Rochester on May 27, 2004. That letter from Reyes showed that it had been copied to Can. The letter also indicates that Can had left the country, but when he returned he found a postal service form alerting him to the fact that a notice had been sent to him from the DEA.
Can has also submitted an affidavit sworn to March 1, 2010, which is annexed to attorney Louis V. Asandrov's letter of March 11, 2010, (Dkt. #9). In that affidavit, Can acknowledges that he found a notice in his mailbox on or about September 16, 2004 when he returned from Turkey which informed him that someone had attempted to so send him a letter, and that he turned the matter over attorney Reyes. According to Can, Reyes took some action but eventually advised Can that he would not handle the case. Can states in his affidavit that he then hired another attorney named ...