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Hudson v. City of Sunrise

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

February 14, 2018


         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County; Carol Lisa Phillips, Judge; L.T. Case No. CACE15-009367.

          Michael Hudson, Sunrise, pro se.

          Gregg Rossman of Rossman Legal, Davie, for appellee.

          Klingensmith, J.

         Michael Hudson appeals the trial court's entry of final summary judgment and a final order of forfeiture in favor of the City of Sunrise as to Hudson's interest in money and a vehicle. Hudson challenges the trial court's judgment and order as to the money which was entered without an evidentiary hearing. He contends that he had the right to such a hearing to prove his standing as a claimant because he asserted a bona fide claim to the money. Because the judgment and final order were entered without providing Hudson with an evidentiary hearing, we reverse.

         This dispute arises from an incident where Sunrise police officers observed Hudson engage in what they determined to be a drug transaction. The officers conducted a traffic stop on Hudson's vehicle and noticed the distinct odor of cannabis emanating from the passenger compartment. Soon after, a K-9 officer alerted to the presence of a controlled substance in a plastic container found inside Hudson's vehicle. A subsequent search of the vehicle produced four identical Western Union credit cards bearing the names of other individuals and co-mingled with Hudson's personal credit cards. These credit cards were later identified as having been obtained from fraudulent tax returns. During the search, the officers also discovered a water bill in Hudson's name as well as a furniture receipt, each featuring the same residential address. Upon taking Hudson into custody, they found he was also carrying $1, 770 in cash.

         Hudson waived his Miranda rights and admitted during questioning that he possessed the Western Union credit cards, but that someone else gave them to him. He also admitted he had sold cocaine in the transaction observed by the officers, and the drugs had been stored in the plastic container alerted to by the K-9. He also admitted to being part of a larger cannabis-smuggling ring that operated between Arizona and Florida.

         Officers later conducted a search at the address listed on the water bill and furniture receipt. When they walked to the rear of the residence, they saw two bags of cannabis in plain view on the ground, and a towel wrapped around a clear plastic bag that tested positive for cocaine. The home's outdoor garbage cans were found to contain credit cards and credit card approval forms with various names on them.

         From the search conducted inside the home, officers seized various papers and documents containing other individuals' personal identification and social security numbers, several fraudulent credit cards, two laptop computers, and two cell phones. Hudson was charged with the use, or possession with intent to fraudulently use, personal identification information without consent. Based on what they found at the home and in the vehicle, the officers concluded that the money Hudson was carrying was obtained either through the sale of controlled substances or through identity fraud. They then seized both the money and Hudson's vehicle to begin the process of forfeiture.

         The City provided Hudson with a notice of seizure, and informed him of his right to request an adversarial preliminary hearing pursuant to section 932.703(2)(a), Florida Statutes (2015).[1] Hudson refused to sign the notice and failed to request an adversarial preliminary hearing. Thereafter, the City filed its forfeiture complaint and affidavit, and the trial court entered an order finding probable cause based on the City's documents. See § 932.704(5)(b), Fla. Stat. (2016); see also Sanchez v. City of West Palm Beach, 149 So.3d 92, 97-98 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014) ("Only where 'no person entitled to notice requests an adversarial preliminary hearing' is the court's review limited to the traditional probable cause determination where the court 'review[s] the complaint and the verified supporting affidavit to determine whether there was probable cause for the seizure.'" (alteration in original) (quoting § 932.704(5)(b))). Later, Hudson filed a written response to the City's forfeiture complaint, but the trial court deemed his submission to be a mere unsworn denial of the allegations in the City's complaint, rather than defenses to the forfeiture.

         Six months later, the City filed a motion for summary judgment against Hudson in the forfeiture proceeding. Hudson then filed an unsworn affidavit in opposition to the City's motion and attached a sworn affidavit from his mother, which stated, "I Catherine Hudson swear and affirm that [I] gave my son Michael Hudson $1, 550.00 in [U.S.] currency as a birthday gift."

         Thereafter, the trial court held a hearing on the City's motion for summary judgment. Near the end of the summary judgment hearing, Hudson advised the trial court that "the issue of standing, from my understanding and my position is that it should be a hearing before the Court where the Court determines if I have standing or if I'm a claimant or not and even in the same case law that [the City] cited, on here it says that." The City responded that Hudson's bald assertion that "the money is mine, " sworn or otherwise, was insufficient for Hudson to carry his burden to prove that he was entitled to an evidentiary hearing. See Fraser v. Dep't of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles, 727 So.2d 1021, 1024 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999).

         The trial court granted the City's motion and entered final judgment in its favor as to both the money and the vehicle, finding that Hudson did not have standing to contest the forfeiture. In doing so, the trial court ruled that the only sworn testimony submitted in opposition to the City's motion for summary judgment, namely the mother's affidavit, was legally insufficient since it contained just one sentence that purported to describe a portion of the $1, ...

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