Submitted: April 18, 2019
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Arkansas - Little Rock
COLLOTON, GRUENDER, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
GRUENDER, Circuit Judge.
Thompson appeals the district court's judgment in favor
of the United States in this civil forfeiture action. We
2015, Transportation Security Administration agents at the
Little Rock, Arkansas airport discovered nearly $285, 000 in
cash in a false bottom of Thompson's suitcase, and a
drug-sniffing dog indicated the odor of narcotics on the
suitcase. The Government filed a complaint seeking to forfeit
the money under 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6). Thompson filed a
verified claim and answer contesting the Government's
action, asserting that part of the money belonged to a
business, part of it was personal savings jointly held with
his girlfriend, and that he "has an interest in the
property that is the subject of this lawsuit as an owner of
the property, and he has a possessory interest and a right to
possess the property as an owner and/or agent of the
maintain a claim for property subject to forfeiture, a
claimant must establish standing. See generally United
States v. $31, 000.00 in U.S. Currency, 872 F.3d 342,
348 (6th Cir. 2017). Supplemental Rule G(5) of the
Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset
Forfeiture Actions sets a low threshold for claimants
initially to establish statutory standing, requiring only
that a claim in a civil forfeiture proceeding "identify
the claimant and state the claimant's interest in the
property." Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. R. G(5)(a)(i)(B); see
also United States v. $579, 475.00 in U.S. Currency, 917
F.3d 1047, 1048-49 (8th Cir. 2019). But the assertion of an
"interest in the property" that is necessary to
satisfy Supplementary Rule G(5) may turn out to be false.
Therefore, "[u]nlike in typical civil proceedings, the
government may commence limited discovery immediately after a
verified claim is filed," United States v. $133,
420.00 in U.S. Currency, 672 F.3d 629, 635 (9th Cir.
2012), for the purpose of "gather[ing] information that
bears on the claimant's standing," Fed.R.Civ.P.
Supp. R. G advisory committee's note to 2006 adoption.
The special interrogatories provided for in Supplemental Rule
G(6) operate as a "mechanism to address unsubstantiated
claims" and "may be used to test the claimant's
relationship to the property." $579, 475.00,
917 F.3d at 1049. If a claimant's assertions of ownership
in his initial claim are undermined by his answers to the
special interrogatories, his standing could then be
challenged on a motion for summary judgment, where the
claimant would have to "carry the burden of establishing
standing by a preponderance of the evidence."
See Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. R. G(8)(c); see
generally United States v. $133, 420.00, 672 F.3d at
638-39 (explaining that "at the motion to dismiss stage,
a claimant's unequivocal assertion of an ownership
interest in the property is sufficient by itself to establish
standing" but "[a] claimant asserting an ownership
interest in the defendant property . . . must also present
some evidence of ownership beyond the mere assertion in order
to survive a motion for summary judgment" for lack of
standing (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Government served Thompson with special interrogatories
pursuant to Supplemental Rule G(6). The Government identified
several deficiencies in Thompson's answers. After he did
not supplement his answers, the Government filed a motion to
strike Thompson's claim because he failed to comply with
Supplemental Rules G(5) and G(6). See Fed. R. Civ.
P. Supp. R. G(8)(c)(i)(A). The Government asked that Thompson
at least be compelled to provide adequate responses to the
special interrogatories if the court chose not to strike
27, 2017, the district court concluded that Thompson's
claim had satisfied Supplementary Rule G(5)'s initial
threshold for standing, denied the Government's motion to
strike, and ordered Thompson to "supplement his
responses to the special interrogatories as requested by the
United States within 21 days." Despite multiple
extensions of time acceded to by the Government, Thompson
continued to provide incomplete responses to the
interrogatories, and the Government filed another motion to
strike his claim. Thompson countered that the interrogatories
were overly burdensome and sought a protective order. He also
filed a motion to dismiss the forfeiture proceedings, arguing
that the Government's complaint failed to state a claim
against the seized currency. The district court denied
Thompson's motion for a protective order, struck his
claim as a Rule 37 discovery sanction for failing to comply
with the July 27, 2017 order, and denied his motion to
dismiss as moot. The district court then granted the
Government's motion for default judgment and a decree of
forfeiture and denied Thompson's motion to alter the
judgment and for reconsideration.
we review Thompson's appeal of the district court's
decision to strike his claim for abuse of discretion. See
United States v. One Parcel of Prop. Located at RR 2, Indep.,
Buchanan Cty., 959 F.2d 101, 104 (8th Cir. 1992).
"A claimant's failure to comply with the
interrogatory rule is grounds to strike the claim."
$579, 475.00, 917 F.3d at 1049. A claimant who
"fails to obey an order to provide or permit
discovery" runs the risk of the district court
"striking [his] pleadings in whole or in part."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A). An "evasive or incomplete
disclosure, answer, or response" to an interrogatory
constitutes a failure to answer. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(4).
Striking a claim is "an extreme sanction that should be
applied only where there is an order compelling discovery, a
willful violation of the order, and prejudice to the other
party." United States v. $11, 071, 188.64 in U.S.
Currency, 825 F.3d 365, 369 (8th Cir. 2016) (internal
quotation marks omitted). But in the civil forfeiture
context, "the special role that [special
interrogatories] play in the scheme for determining claim
standing may justify a somewhat more demanding approach than
the general approach to discovery sanctions under Rule
37." Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. R. G advisory committee's
note to 2006 adoption.
the district court ordered Thompson to provide supplemental
responses to the special interrogatories. Thompson's
responses showed a willful violation of this discovery order.
He failed to verify his supplemental answers as required by
Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(5). He failed to supplement his response
to Special Interrogatory 1 entirely. He also failed to
identify relevant documents as requested and gave confusing
accounts of who owned the money, asserting in his responses
that he had a personal ownership interest in all of it and
that part of it was property of a separate business, of which
he and his girlfriend were both partners. He had already
asserted in his claim that he and his girlfriend owned part
of the money jointly as savings. His responses failed to
clarify which portions belonged to which parties. Finally,
the Government made several requests for documents or records
that supported his claim that he obtained the currency
through gifts, investments, and employment, to which Thompson
replied that he could not provide responsive documents
because the Government had seized relevant documents. In
reality, the Government had offered Thompson access to all of
his information in its possession, but Thompson never
accepted this offer.
opaque, confusing, and evasive responses prejudiced the
Government by hindering its ability to "gather
information that bears on the claimant's standing"
as provided for in the Supplemental Rules. See Fed.
R. Civ. P. Supp. R. G advisory committee's note to 2006
adoption. We have previously held that where the Government
concedes that a claimant has established standing, no special
interrogatories are necessary to test that issue, and it
would be an abuse of discretion to strike a claim for failure
to respond to them. United States v. $154, 853.00 in U.S.
Currency, 744 F.3d 559, 564 (8th Cir. 2014),
overruled on other grounds by $579, 475.00, 917 F.3d
at 1049-50. But here, the Government has not conceded
Thompson's standing and actively contests it. Moreover,
Thompson's responses to the special interrogatories
actually raised significant questions about his standing. For
example, though he provided some bank and tax documents, they
do not explain his possession of so much currency, and he has
failed to provide these documents with any context that would
allow the Government to connect the currency with his
financial history. And because of the ambiguity of his
responses, it remains unclear which portion of the currency
he is claiming and which portion is claimed by his girlfriend
or their business. In short, Thompson's standing was
contested and was ripe for determination on summary judgment,
and Thompson prejudiced the Government by willfully failing
to respond adequately to discovery that sought to test that
standing after being ordered to do so by the district court.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. R. G(8)(c)(i)(A). We find
no abuse of discretion in the district court's decision
to strike his claim. See $11, 071, 188.64, 825 F.3d
at 369-70 (finding no abuse of discretion in striking a claim
when the claimant willfully disobeyed the discovery order).
Thompson argues that his motion to dismiss was improperly
denied because the Government failed to state a claim against
the currency. But the Government's motion to strike
"must be decided before any motion by the claimant to
dismiss the action." Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. R.
G(8)(c)(ii)(A). And when Thompson's claim is
"stricken, he is out of the case." United
States v. Beechcraft Queen Airplane Serial No. LD-24,
789 F.2d 627, 627, 630 (8th Cir. 1986). No longer a party, he
has no "legally cognizable interest in the outcome"
of the forfeiture action, and his motion to dismiss is
moot.See Already, ...