This lawsuit relates to civil forfeiture, a practice of many police departments across the county under which the departments seize money that they claim is being used for illicit purposes. The resulting process is civil rather than criminal. In the District of Columbia, civil forfeiture is authorized by D.C. Code § 48-905.02, which allows police to seize money they believe is involved in a violation of the Controlled Substances Act. However, the law also requires that the Government of the District of Columbia (the District) provide “. . . written notice of the seizure together with information applicable to the procedures for claiming the property,” to the person from whom the money is seized and, if the person replies within 30 days, that the District either returns the money or begins civil forfeiture proceedings within a year of resolution of the underlying charges.
The two plaintiffs in this case had money seized from them after being arrested by the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) on suspicion of trafficking narcotics, but were neither given the required notice nor had proceedings brought against them within a year of resolution of the underlying charges against them. In response, plaintiffs sued the District under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. They argued that the District had violated their Fifth Amendment Due Process rights by taking their money without following the procedure required by D.C. Code § 48-905.02. Plaintiffs asked the Court to: grant the plaintiffs class action certification to represent other persons who had had money seized by the MPD without notification or timely forfeiture proceedings; issue a declaration that the District had violated plaintiffs’ constitutional rights; issue an injunction requiring the District to alter its practices to conform to D.C. Code § 48-905.02; order the District of Columbia to return all money unlawfully retained, plus restitution for loss of use; award the named plaintiffs and class members compensatory damages; and award the plaintiffs reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
After two motions for class certification by plaintiffs had been rejected without prejudice on March 10, 2010 (when the issue was deemed not yet ripe), and February 28, 2012 (as overbroad), the second judge assigned to the case, Judge Robert L. Wilkins, granted the plaintiffs' third request for class certification on August 22, 2012. 283 F.R.D. 20 (D.D.C. 2012). Plaintiffs’ class included persons who (1) were arrested by an officer of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") (2) had cash taken from their persons by the MPD (3) were not given their cash back by the MPD because the MPD kept that cash (4) on or after June 8, 2006, and on or before May 24, 2012, had an administrative forfeiture notice mailed to them by the District but didn’t send back a signed mail receipt (5) were not re-sent a notice regarding the cash upon failing to send a signed mail receipt and, (6) didn’t have a civil forfeiture action filed against them by the district within one year of the resolution of the underlying criminal charges against them. Plaintiffs’ class also included persons who met steps 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 of the previous list, but were held by or in the custody of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections when administrative forfeiture notice was sent, and neither received the notice at their place of incarceration nor we re-sent notice after they were released from custody.
On November 4, 2013, plaintiffs and defendants notified the court that they had reached a settlement agreement and asked the court for preliminary approval of that settlement. Judge Wilkins granted preliminary approval of the agreement on December 20, 2014. After a final approval and fairness hearing on June 19, 2014, the third judge assigned to the case, Judge Christopher R. Cooper, approved a final settlement agreement. In the settlement agreement, plaintiffs dropped their request for declaratory and injunctive relief, and accepted an award of damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs. The total amount that defendants paid was $855,000 total, including: $2,500 to each of the class representatives as an award for bringing the class action suit; $14,001.85 for attorney's expenses; $52,665.15 to Class Action Administration, Inc. ("CAA"); $283,333 for attorney's fees; and $500,000 on approved claims to plaintiffs and other members of plaintiffs’ class. If the total of approved claims exceeded $500,000 total, the settlement agreement stipulated that payments to approved claimants would be reduced by the same percentage for all claimants to the extent necessary to prevent the total payout from exceeding $500,000. 49 F. Supp. 3d 48 (D.D.C. 2014). Ryan Berry - 07/08/2016