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United States v. Real Property Located at 505 Prairie View Drive

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division

October 29, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
REAL PROPERTY LOCATED AT 505 PRAIRIE VIEW DRIVE, FAIRFAX, IOWA, Defendant, And Concerning, MICHAEL CUTTER, Claimant.

RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

JON STUART SCOLES, Chief Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (docket number 56) filed by the United States on August 26, 2014, the Resistance (docket number 63) filed by the Claimant on September 26, and the Reply (docket number 66) filed by the United States on October 6. Pursuant to Local Rule 7.c, the motion will be decided without oral argument.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On May 15, 2013, the United States filed a Verified Complaint for Forfeiture In Rem (docket number 1), seeking forfeiture of the real property known locally as 505 Prairie View Drive, Fairfax, Iowa.[1] On August 21, 2013, Michael Cutter filed a claim (docket number 34) on the subject property and an answer (docket number 35) to the complaint.

On November 4, 2013, the Court adopted a proposed Scheduling Order and Discovery Plan submitted by the parties. Also at that time, the case was referred to me for the conduct of all further proceedings and the entry of judgment, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(c) and the consent of the parties. After consulting with the attorneys, this case was scheduled for a bench trial on November 24, 2014.

On August 26, 2014, the United States timely filed the instant motion for summary judgment.

III. ISSUES PRESENTED

The United States seeks to forfeit the real property located at 505 Prairie View Drive, Fairfax, Iowa.[2] The United States claims that the property represents proceeds from the illegal distribution of controlled substances, and/or was used to facilitate the distribution and storage of illegal controlled substances. Michael Cutter, who is the record titleholder of the property, denies the allegations, and affirmatively asserts that forfeiture would constitute an excessive fine and, if the property is forfeitable, he is entitled to remission or mitigation of forfeiture.

IV. RELEVANT FACTS

A. Acquisition, Ownership, and Occupancy of the Property

Claimant Michael Cutter purchased the subject property on June 7, 2005. At that time, it was a vacant lot. Cutter borrowed $217, 600 to build a house on the property, secured by a construction mortgage. The mortgage was paid off in March 2009. The property is currently assessed at $262, 584 for tax purposes.

In March or April 2009, Nels Nelson and A.S. moved into the property.[3] In its statement of undisputed facts, the United States asserts that Cutter and Nelson were "good friends" and Cutter allowed Nelson to live "rent-free" at the subject property. In response, Cutter acknowledges that he has known Nelson for several years and, as discussed in more detail below, has purchased marijuana from Nelson in the past. Cutter does not deny the United States' assertion that Nelson was permitted to reside at the house rent-free. Cutter asserts that it is misleading, however, for the United States to state that Nelson wanted to live at the property "so people would not know where he lived." According to Cutter, "Mr. Nelson did not move into the Fairfax house in order to hide drug dealing from others, Mr. Nelson moved into the Fairfax ...


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