United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
S. SNEED, UNTIED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on the Motion to Return Property
(“Motion”) filed by Oscar Jose Barquin Vazquez.
(Dkt. 176.) Mr. Vazquez seeks the return of a 2014 Jeep Grand
Cherokee seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration
(“DEA”) from Defendant Jose Carlos Polanco
Vazquez's residence on March 9, 2017. In response, the
Government argues that Mr. Vazquez was provided reasonable
notice of the administrative forfeiture proceedings
concerning the vehicle, and as such, the Court lacks
jurisdiction to order the Government to return the vehicle to
Mr. Vazquez. (Dkt. 186.) Upon consideration, and for the
reasons stated herein and by the Government in its response,
Mr. Vazquez's Motion is denied.
vehicle Mr. Vazquez seeks to recover was forfeited in a DEA
administrative forfeiture proceeding. The vehicle was not
ordered to be forfeited by the Court, nor is it named in the
Government's Bill of Particulars. (Dkts. 45, 58, 74,
158.) Therefore, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g)
cited by Mr. Vazquez is inapplicable, as Rule 41(g) cannot be
used to recover property forfeited in a civil forfeiture
proceeding. United States v. Eubanks, 169 F.3d 672,
674 (11th Cir. 1999); United States v. Watkins, 120
F.3d 254, 255 (11th Cir. 1997).
the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (“CAFRA”),
18 U.S.C. § 983 et seq., applies to Mr.
Vazquez's Motion. “Section 983(e) is the exclusive
remedy for seeking to set aside a declaration of forfeiture
under a civil forfeiture statute.” Mesa Valderrama
v. United States, 417 F.3d 1189, 1196 (11th Cir. 2005).
The district court lacks jurisdiction to review the merits of
administrative or non-judicial forfeitures under CAFRA.
Id. Rather, the court's review is “limited
to whether the agency followed the proper procedural
safeguards.” Id. Thus, the “only issue
this court can consider is whether [Mr. Vazquez] received the
appropriate notice in sufficient time to contest the
agency's action of summarily forfeiting [his
April 20, 2017, the DEA gave Mr. Vazquez written notice of
its seizure of the vehicle and its initiation of
administrative forfeiture proceedings by sending him a Notice
of Seizure of Property and Initiation of Administrative
Forfeiture Proceedings (“Notice”) using United
States Postal Service Certified Mail. (Dkt. 186, Ex. A.)
See 18 U.S.C. § 983(a); 19 U.S.C. §
1607(a) (requiring notice to interested parties). In addition
to informing Mr. Vazquez of the seizure and administrative
forfeiture proceedings, the Notice also provided instructions
and deadlines for contesting the forfeiture of the vehicle.
(Dkt. 186, Ex. A.) Specifically, the Notice expressly
explained that to contest the forfeiture of the vehicle in
the United States District Court, Mr. Vazquez was required to
file a claim with the DEA by May 25, 2017. (Id.)
According to the Notice, “a claim is deemed filed on
the date received by the agency.” (Id.)
Further, the Notice explained that although no specific claim
form was required, claim forms were available at
www.forfeiture.gov. (Id.) Mr. Vazquez obtained a
Seized Asset Claim Form and filed a claim using the Seized
Asset Claim Form to contest the forfeiture of the vehicle,
but it was denied as untimely. (Dkt. 176 at 2; Dkt. 176, Ex.
C, D.) The DEA received Mr. Vazquez's Seized Asset Claim
Form on May 26, 2017, after the deadline stated in the
Notice. (Dkt. 186, Ex. A at 4.) Consequently, the vehicle was
administratively forfeited. See 19 U.S.C. §
1609 (providing that if a claimant fails to file a timely
claim, the property is administratively forfeited). The DEA
notified Mr. Vazquez in a letter dated June 12, 2017, that
his Seized Asset Claim Form was untimely submitted, but
“as a matter of discretion, ” the agency would
permit him to file a Petition for Remission and/or Mitigation
with the DEA within twenty days of his receipt of the June
12, 2017, letter. (Dkt. 186, Ex. A at 5.) Mr. Vazquez could
request that the DEA “pardon all or part of the
property from the forfeiture” and contest the
forfeiture of the vehicle in the Petition for Remission
and/or Mitigation. (Dkt. 186, Ex. A.) Mr. Vazquez did not
file a Petition for Remission and/or Mitigation.
the circumstances, the Court lacks jurisdiction to review the
merits of the DEA's administrative forfeiture of the
vehicle or to order the Government to return the vehicle to
Mr. Vazquez. Mr. Vazquez received adequate notice of the
DEA's administrative forfeiture proceedings and had
sufficient time to contest the DEA's action summarily
forfeiting his property. Mr. Vazquez failed to file a timely
claim and failed to file a Petition for Remission and/or
Mitigation within the additional time the agency allotted.
Thus, the Court lacks jurisdiction. See Matter of Sixty
Seven Thousand Four Hundred Seventy Dollars ($67,
470.00), 901 F.2d 1540, 1543 (11th Cir. 1990) (providing that
federal courts lack jurisdiction to review the merits of a
forfeiture decision made by the DEA).
no exceptional circumstances exist warranting the Court's
exercise of equitable jurisdiction. See Id. at
1544-45 (explaining considerations for exercising equitable
jurisdiction include “whether the petitioner's
conduct and the merits of his position require judicial
review to prevent manifest injustice”). Mr.
Vazquez's conduct demonstrates that he received notice of
the forfeiture of the vehicle, but inexplicably failed to
comply with the DEA's requirements for contesting the
forfeiture. Mr. Vazquez admits that he received the Notice
and does not challenge the time allotted to him to file his
claim. Further, as stated herein, Mr. Vazquez failed to
timely file a claim and failed to file a Petition for
Remission and/or Mitigation after receiving additional time
to do so. Thus, the Court lacks equitable jurisdiction to
order the Government to return the vehicle to Mr. Vazquez.
it is ORDERED that Oscar Jose Barquin
Vazquez's Motion to Return Property (Dkt. 176) is