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Can Four Pages be Worth $1 Million?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 11, 2012 3:04 PM

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a four-page decision this week that could be worth almost $1 million to Michael Simard.

Tuesday, a Ninth Circuit panel found that a district court had employed the wrong standard of proof to determine whether Simard was entitled $999,830 that police seized from his car during a traffic stop.

Simard gave Nevada Highway Patrol permission to search his vehicle after he was stopped for speeding on Interstate 15. He claimed to be on a sightseeing tour at the time, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

Patrol Sgt. Eric Kemmer searched the vehicle and found the money bundled in stacks in a duffle bag in the trunk. Simard denied any knowledge of the money, which the police confiscated. He was given a warning for speeding and released.

The government filed a complaint in January 2009 seeking forfeiture of the money, and claiming there was evidence Simard was somehow involved in drug smuggling or carrying drug money, the Las Vegas Sun reports. Simard challenged the forfeiture, arguing that the cash was his.

The district court concluded that Simard lacked Article III standing, struck his claim and entered judgment in favor of the government.

In a civil forfeiture proceeding, a claimant's unequivocal assertion of an ownership interest in the property is sufficient by itself to establish standing at the motion to dismiss stage. A claimant asserting a mere possessory interest must do more, and explain his possession of the property.

Here, Simard introduced a sworn declaration in support of his claim "asserting a legal right and ownership interest in the monies seized from me." The Ninth Circuit ruled that his unequivocal assertion of ownership established Article III standing for this stage of proceedings.

Though the disclaimer form and statements allegedly made during the traffic stop may be relevant evidence in a motion for summary judgment, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the evidence was not properly weighed against Simard's unequivocal assertion of ownership for determining Article III standing.

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