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Case Name Sourovelis v. City of Philadelphia CJ-PA-0002
Docket / Court 2:14-cv-04687-ER ( E.D. Pa. )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Policing
Attorney Organization Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLP
Case Summary
On August 11, 2014, four individuals filed this class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs sued the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and the Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department ... read more >
On August 11, 2014, four individuals filed this class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs sued the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and the Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and the Declaratory Judgments Act. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on November 17, 2014.

The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel and the Institute for Justice, alleged the defendants’ policies and practices with regard to civil forfeitures, which are authorized by Pennsylvania law: (1) violated the plaintiffs’ rights to notice or a hearing prior to the seizure, (2) compelled the plaintiffs to give up constitutional and statutory rights, (3) prevented the plaintiffs from receiving a timely hearing, (4) required the plaintiffs to return to court multiple times by re-listing the property in question, (5) inserted an institutional and personal interest in forfeiture proceedings by allowing the defendants to retain the property’s proceeds, and (6) violated due process by allowing the defendants to run the forfeiture courtroom proceedings. The plaintiffs sought an injunction and declaratory judgment on these six claims.

Under Pennsylvania law, law enforcement can confiscate real and personal property if it is associated with a crime, even if the owner of the property is not associated with the crime. Commonly, property was seized in connection with a controlled substance violation pursuant to the Controlled Substance Forfeiture Act. Once seized, the property owner must prove the innocence of the property to get it back. Otherwise, the District Attorney’s Office (DA) keeps the property and proceeds from its sale. The plaintiffs allege that by using forms copied from civil forfeiture petitions and courtroom proceedings run by DA prosecutors, the DA generates a substantially high volume of cases that account for almost 20% of its general budget. Moreover, after the initial hearing, prosecutors sometimes decided to re-list the case multiple times before it concluded, compelling the plaintiffs to return to court each time if they wished to contest the forfeiture. After seizing the property, the defendants required the plaintiffs to agree to particular conditions before regaining their property, including waiving the right to an innocent-owner defense should the defendants seize the property in the future or waiving the defense that the forfeiture is disproportionate to the offense.

The plaintiffs sought class certification, and the defendants sought to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. Following Judge Robreno’s denial of the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the parties entered into settlement discussion. On November 4, 2015, after a fairness hearing, the Court (Judge Robreno) ordered approval of a settlement and class certification only with regard to the first two claims.

Per the order, the class for the first claim of relief was “all persons holding legal title to or otherwise having a legal interest in real property against which an ex parte “seize and seal” order is presently in effect, or will in the future be in effect.” The class for the second claim of relief was “all persons holding legal title to or otherwise having a legal interest in real or personal property against which a civil-forfeiture petition has been filed, or will in the future be filed, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County and who entered into an unsealing agreement or a settlement agreement.”

Per the settlement agreement, the defendants were prohibited from seeking ex parte “seize and seal” orders under the Controlled Substances Forfeiture Act unless the application was previously approved, there are facts to establish the existence of exigent circumstances connected to the property, and there are facts to establish that less restrictive measures would not be sufficient. Additionally, any existing ex parte “seize and seal” orders were to be removed. The settlement also provided that notice would be given to civil forfeiture respondents that entered into unsealing or settlement agreements that specific conditions of their agreements are now void.

Litigation continued on the outstanding claims for relief. The plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint on September 15, 2016, requesting relief on the remaining claims. For the next several months, procedural developments continued, including the defendants filing two motions to dismiss on Sept. 19, 2016 and Nov. 29, 2016. Then, on Feb. 23, 2017, the court granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs' request for class certification as to their fifth claim. The court granted certification "with respect to Plaintiffs’ requests for (1) a declaration that the City and D.A. Defendants’ policy and practice of retaining forfeited property and its proceeds is unconstitutional, and (2) an injunction enjoining that policy and practice." It denied certification with respect to" entry of judgment requiring the return of property." A month later on March 30, the court denied the defendants' motions to dismiss.

Litigation continued, and the defendants filed a motion for a permanent injunction on July 21, 2017. They argued that, despite offering the plaintiffs "a settlement agreement whereby the Philadelphia Police Department and District Attorney’s Office would no longer receive any forfeiture proceeds" two months prior, the plaintiffs had not accepted the offer. In an effort to end the litigation, the defendants asked the court to issue an injunction against themselves.

The case is still ongoing.

Virginia Weeks - 11/20/2016
Virginia Weeks - 09/12/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Defendant-type
Law-enforcement
General
Courts
Forfeiture
Timeliness of case assignment
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Philadelphia District Attorney's Office
Plaintiff Description Philadelphia residents who have had or will have their real or personal property seized due to civil forfeiture policies.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLP
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Settlement over some claims
Source of Relief Settlement
None yet
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  Philadelphia Forfeiture
http://ij.org/case/philadelphia-forfeiture/
Date: Aug. 11, 2014
By: Institute for Justice
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
2:14-cv-04687-ER (E.D. Pa.)
CJ-PA-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/07/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint- Class Action [ECF# 1]
CJ-PA-0002-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/11/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint- Class Action [ECF# 40]
CJ-PA-0002-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/17/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum [ECF# 66] (2015 WL 2215060) (E.D. Pa.)
CJ-PA-0002-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 05/12/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Proposed Settlement Agreement for Plaintiffs' First and Second Claims for Relief [ECF# 91]
CJ-PA-0002-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/29/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting Unopposed Motion to Certify Settlement Clauses and Grant Final Approval of Settlement of Plaintiffs' First and Second Claims without Prejudice [ECF# 104] (E.D. Pa.)
CJ-PA-0002-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/04/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Second Amended Class-Action Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 157]
CJ-PA-0002-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/15/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum [ECF# 187]
CJ-PA-0002-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/23/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 188] (E.D. Pa.)
CJ-PA-0002-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/23/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Robreno, Eduardo C. (E.D. Pa.)
CJ-PA-0002-0003 | CJ-PA-0002-0005 | CJ-PA-0002-0008 | CJ-PA-0002-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Alban, Dan (Virginia)
CJ-PA-0002-9000
Bullock, Scott G. (Virginia)
CJ-PA-0002-0001 | CJ-PA-0002-0002 | CJ-PA-0002-0004 | CJ-PA-0002-9000
Emam, Milad (Virginia)
CJ-PA-0002-0006 | CJ-PA-0002-9000
Frommer, Robert P. (Virginia)
CJ-PA-0002-0001 | CJ-PA-0002-0002 | CJ-PA-0002-0004 | CJ-PA-0002-0006 | CJ-PA-0002-9000
Mellor, William H. (Virginia)
CJ-PA-0002-0001 | CJ-PA-0002-0002 | CJ-PA-0002-0004 | CJ-PA-0002-9000
Peccola, Robert A. (Virginia)
CJ-PA-0002-0006 | CJ-PA-0002-9000
Rudovsky, David (Pennsylvania)
CJ-PA-0002-0001 | CJ-PA-0002-0002 | CJ-PA-0002-0004 | CJ-PA-0002-0006 | CJ-PA-0002-9000
Sheth, Darpana M. (Virginia)
CJ-PA-0002-0001 | CJ-PA-0002-0002 | CJ-PA-0002-0004 | CJ-PA-0002-0006 | CJ-PA-0002-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Albaugh, Branden James (Pennsylvania)
CJ-PA-0002-9000
Coval, Andrew J. (Alaska)
CJ-PA-0002-9000
Daley, Michael P (Pennsylvania)
CJ-PA-0002-9000
Hughes, Bryan C. (Pennsylvania)
CJ-PA-0002-0004 | CJ-PA-0002-9000
Mavroudis, Dimitrios (Pennsylvania)
CJ-PA-0002-9000
Miller, Michael R. (Pennsylvania)
CJ-PA-0002-9000
Rubin, Elizabeth J (Pennsylvania)
CJ-PA-0002-0004 | CJ-PA-0002-9000
Smith, Shelley R. (Pennsylvania)
CJ-PA-0002-0004
Weck, Douglas (Pennsylvania)
CJ-PA-0002-0004 | CJ-PA-0002-9000

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