Submitted: September 25, 2018
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Arkansas - Little Rock
SMITH, Chief Judge, WOLLMAN, LOKEN, COLLOTON, GRUENDER,
BENTON, SHEPHERD, KELLY, ERICKSON, GRASZ, and STRAS, Circuit
Judges, En Banc.
COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.
appeal concerns the pleading requirements for a verified
claim in a civil forfeiture proceeding. The case is governed
by the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims
and Asset Forfeiture Actions, which supplement the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure. A prior decision of this court held
that a claimant who contests a forfeiture must state its
interest in the disputed property "with some level of
specificity," and that "a general assertion"
of an interest in property is insufficient to satisfy the
governing rule of procedure. United States v. $154,
853.00, 744 F.3d 559, 562-63 (8th Cir. 2014). The
appellant in this civil forfeiture proceeding, LNG Express,
Inc., asks us to reconsider the "specificity"
case arises from a traffic stop conducted by the Arkansas
State Police in September 2014. A state police corporal found
two boxes containing $579, 475.00 in the cab of a tractor
trailer. The government sought to forfeit the money in the
district court on the ground that it was "(1) money
intended to be furnished in exchange for a controlled
substance; (2) proceeds traceable to such an exchange; and
(3) money used and intended to be used to facilitate a
violation of the Controlled Substances Act."
See 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6).
trucking company, filed a verified claim asserting "a
claim to, interest in, and right to the property seized
herein," and alleging that it was "the owner"
of the seized currency. The government moved to strike
LNG's claim for failing to comply with Supplemental Rule
G(5). See Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. R. G(8)(c)(i)(A). On
the point in dispute here, Rule G(5) requires that a claim in
a civil forfeiture proceeding must "identify the
claimant and state the claimant's interest in the
property." Id. G(5)(a)(i)(B). The district
court, consistent with our precedent in United States v.
$154, 853.00, ruled that LNG's claim was
insufficient to meet the pleading requirements and struck the
conclude that the "specificity" requirement imposed
by our prior decision is not supported by the rule, and that
LNG's claim was sufficient to comply with Rule G(5). A
rule of civil procedure should be interpreted in accordance
with its plain meaning. Pavelic & LeFlore v. Marvel
Entm't Grp., 493 U.S. 120, 123 (1989). LNG, by
asserting that it was "the owner" of the currency
at issue, and that it had "a claim to, interest in, and
right to the property," satisfied the requirement of
Rule G(5) to "state the claimant's interest in the
property." To impose a mandate that the claimant must
provide more detail or specificity, such as information about
how it obtained the funds at issue, would go beyond the
sparse terms of the rule. Accord United States v. $31,
000.00 in U.S. Currency, 872 F.3d 342, 348-54 (6th Cir.
2017); United States v. $196, 969.00 U.S. Currency,
719 F.3d 644, 646-47 (7th Cir. 2013).
government contends that Rule G(5) does not state what level
of specificity is required for a claim, and that the court
should look to Supplemental Rule C and Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 8 to answer the question. While it is true that if
Rule G does not address an issue, then the other rules also
apply, see Supp. R. G(1), we disagree with the
government's premise. Rule G(5) addresses the issue of
what is a sufficient claim; it establishes only a bare-bones
requirement to "state the claimant's interest in the
property." The absence of a particularity requirement in
Rule G(5), despite its presence elsewhere in Rule G,
e.g., Supp. R. G(2)(c), G(5)(a)(iii), shows that the
rulemakers opted not to impose one for stating an interest in
property. Cf. Russello v. United States, 464 U.S.
16, 23 (1983).
event, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary" to
state a claim under Rule 8, Erickson v. Pardus, 551
U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam), and courts are not licensed
to impose heightened pleading requirements in certain classes
of cases simply to avoid the risk that unsubstantiated claims
will burden the courts and opposing parties. Swierkiewicz
v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512, 514-15 (2002). Rule G
sets a low threshold for the filing of a claim, but provides
another mechanism to address unsubstantiated claims. Rule
G(6) allows the government to serve special interrogatories
that may be used to test the claimant's relationship to
the property at any time after the claim is filed, and a
claimant's failure to comply with the interrogatory rule
is grounds to strike the claim. Supp. R. G(8)(c)(i)(A).
government contends that we should adhere to the prior
decision in United States v. $154, 853.00 even if it
is incorrect, but we do not think this is an appropriate case
for the application of stare decisis by a regional
court of appeals. The prior decision did not analyze the
specificity question under Rule G(5) and seemed to believe
that it was already settled by circuit precedent. 744 F.3d at
562. The cited decisions, however, involved a predecessor
rule with slightly different text and, more importantly, did
not address whether an assertion of ownership is sufficient
to state a claimant's interest in property. See
United States v. Three Parcels of Real Prop., 43 F.3d
388, 392 (8th Cir. 1994); United States v. $104,
674.00, 17 F.3d 267, 268 (8th Cir. 1994). So it appears
in retrospect that the specificity requirement crept into
circuit law without a panel decision that examined the
precise issue. The decision in $154, 853.00 created
a conflict in the circuits, and another circuit later
rejected this court's approach, so leaving an erroneous
precedent in place would perpetuate unwarranted disuniformity
in the law. Addressing such a conflict in authority is one of
the exceptional circumstances for which en banc review is
designed. Fed. R. App. P. 35(b)(1)(B). We therefore overrule
the portion of our decision in United States v. $154,
853.00 that imposed a specificity requirement for the
statement of a claimant's interest in property under Rule
G(5)(a)(i)(B). See 744 F.3d at 562-63.
these reasons, we reverse the district court's order
striking LNG's claim and remand the case for further
proceedings. The district court's order also commented on
LNG's invocation of the Fifth Amendment in response to
certain special interrogatories, and resulting prejudice to
the government, but we do not read the order to cite the
interrogatory responses as an ...