United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Stephanie Dawkins Davis United States Magistrate Judge.
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING CLAIMANTS' MOTION TO
TRANSFER VENUE  AND DENYING CLAIMANTS' MOTION FOR A
PROTECTIVE ORDER 
Gershwin A. Drain United States District Court Judge.
April 1, 2016, Plaintiff United States of America (“the
Government”) filed a Complaint for Forfeiture, based on
currency seized by officers at the Detroit Metropolitan
Airport. Dkt. No. 1, pp. 1-2 (Pg. ID No. 1-2). Thereafter,
Claimants Doru Bobby Moise and Roma Harvest International
Ministries received four extensions to file claims and
answers to the Complaint. See Dkt. No. 4-11.
November 16, 2016, Claimants filed a Motion for a Protective
Order, Dkt. No. 17, and a Motion to Transfer Case to the
United States District Court for the Central District of
California, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), Dkt. No.
motions are fully briefed and a hearing was held on December
19, 2016. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court will
DENY Claimants' Motion to Transfer Venue
 and DENY Claimants' Motion for a
Protective Order .
November 5, 2015, a United States Department of Homeland
Security, Customs and Border Protection
(“Customs”) officer was conducting outbound
currency inspections at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport in
Romulus, Michigan. Dkt. No. 1, p. 24 (Pg. ID No. 4). Afrodita
Chiciu and her traveling companion, Ana Rios, were ticketed
passengers on Delta Airlines Flight No. 98 traveling to
Paris, France with a final destination to Romania.
Id. A Customs officer approached Chiciu and Rios for
purposes of conducting a currency inspection. Id.
The first time that the Customs officer asked Chiciu how much
money she was transporting, Chiciu responded that she had
$10, 000. Id.
Customs officer then referred Chiciu and Rios to secondary
inspection to search their persons and baggage more
thoroughly. Id. Chiciu then professed a lack of
knowledge with the English language. Id. During
secondary inspection, Rios provided translation assistance to
Chiciu. Id. Customs officers explained the currency
reporting requirements to Rios, who acknowledged that she
understood the requirements, and then Rios translated the
U.S. currency requirements to Chiciu. Id. Chiciu
affirmed her understanding of the currency reporting
requirements and restated to Customs officers that she was
transporting $10, 000. Id. at 4-5.
officers asked Chiciu to clarify her previous response, and
Chiciu stated she had “a little more” than $10,
000. Id. at 5. When Customs officers asked Chiciu to
specify the exact amount of currency in her possession, she
verbally declared $30, 000. Id. Following the verbal
declarations, Customs officers presented Chiciu with
Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FINCEN”)
Form No. 105. Id. On that form, Chiciu changed her
previous declarations and made a written declaration in the
amount of $90, 000. Rios declared $500.00 in writing on
FINCEN Form No. 105. Id.
officers then examined the carry-on bags belonging to Rios
and Chiciu. Id. Inside Rios's carry-on bag,
Customs officers discovered $26, 500, which was not properly
reflected on Rios's currency reporting document.
Id. Inside Chiciu's carry-on bag, Customs
officers discovered $96, 770, which was not properly
reflected on Chiciu's reporting document. Id.
The Government alleges that once the currency was discovered,
Chiciu became very agitated and told Customs officers that
she has high blood pressure. Id. Customs then
provided Chiciu with an airport wheelchair, which she
accepted, although she declined the Customs' offer to
seek medical attention on her behalf. Id. Minutes
later, Chiciu allegedly abandoned the wheelchair, picked up
her belongings, and began talking excitedly to Rios in
Romani. Id. at 5-6.
Customs supervisory officer notified Delta Airlines personnel
that Rios and Chiciu would not be flying on Delta Airlines
Flight No. 98 and requested that their checked in luggage be
removed from the plane and taken directly to the Federal
Inspection Station. Id. at 6. Chiciu and Rios were
escorted to the Federal Inspection Station for further
investigation. Id. While there, Chiciu and Rios
initially denied to Customs officers that Chiciu had given
Rios any currency. Id. After further questioning,
Chiciu and Rios changed their original explanation and told
Customs officers that while they were traveling to the
airport, Chiciu gave Rios $10, 200 to carry in her
on the inspection and inconsistent statements made by Chiciu
and Rios, Customs officers determined that both passengers
were attempting to transport $123, 270 in U.S. Currency from
the United States to Romania. Id. Customs officers
returned $3, 270.00 to Rios for humanitarian reasons.
Officers seized the remaining $120, 000 for failure to
accurately report the transportation of currency pursuant to
31 U.S.C. § 5316(a)(1). Id. The Government does
not seek forfeiture of the $26, 500 in United States Currency
seized from Rios. Id.
Court must first address the issue that the Government raised
in its response briefs. See Dkt. No. 20, pp. 18-21
(Pg. ID No. 287-90). The Government contends that
Claimants' factual assertions are unsupported by the
record and that “[t]heir tie to the defendant currency
remains speculative.” Id. at 21. Thus,
according to the Government, because Claimants have not yet
demonstrated standing to contest the forfeiture, the issues
presented to the Court are not ripe for a decision. See
order to contest a governmental forfeiture action, claimants
must have statutory standing through compliance with Rule
C(6) of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime
Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions, as well as the Article
III standing required for any action brought in federal
court. See United States v. Currency $267,
961.07, 916 F.2d 1104, 1107 (6th Cir. 1990). Rule C(6)
The claimant of property that is the subject of an action in
rem shall file a claim within 10 days after process has been
executed, or within such additional time as may be allowed by
the court, and shall serve an answer within 20 days after the
filing of the claim. The claim shall be verified on oath or
solemn affirmation, and shall state the interest in the
property by virtue of which the claimant demands its
restitution and the right to defend the action. If the claim
is made on behalf of the person entitled to possession by an
agent, bailee, or attorney, it shall state that the agent,
bailee, or attorney is duly authorized to make the claim.
Article III standing, “a claimant must have a colorable
ownership, possessory or security interest in at least a
portion of the defendant property.” United States
v. $515, 060.42 in U.S. Currency, 152 F.3d 491, 497 (6th
Cir. 1998). “Article III's standing requirement is
thereby satisfied because an owner or possessor of property
that has been seized necessarily suffers an injury that can
be redressed at least in part by the return of the seized
property.” Id. To establish standing,
claimants need only claim a facially colorable interest in
the seized property, not prove the merits of their underlying
claim. Id. at 487-98.
ownership interest is the most obvious type of interest in
seized property that constitutes a colorable claim.
Id. at 498. However, “[a] property interest
less than ownership may also be sufficient to create
standing.” Id. Even possessory interests may
be sufficient to bestow standing to contest a forfeiture.
Id. Nevertheless, “naked possession”
claims are insufficient to establish standing. Id.
Instead, claimants must provide some explanation or
contextual information regarding their relationship to the
seized property. Id. Factual allegations should
include how the claimants came to possess the property, the
nature of the claimants' relationship to the property,
and/or the story behind the claimants' control of the
contest a forfeiture action, claimants bear the burden of
demonstrating an interest in the seized item sufficient to
satisfy the Court of their standing as claimants.
Id. However, the Sixth Circuit has “decline[d]
to adopt any type of hard-and-fast requirement for the
initial evidentiary showing necessary for standing.”
Government may challenge whether claimants' interest in
defendant property is sufficient to confer standing by
questioning the claimants' factual allegations and
developing information through interrogatories to determine
whether the claimants have a real interest in the property.
Id. at 499. Article III merely requires that
claimants allege a personal stake in the controversy's
outcome, such as an actual or threatened injury. Id.
Claimants have taken the essential step of asserting a
property interest in the defendant currency. The question
then becomes whether Claimants have provided sufficient proof
of their property interests to establish standing so that
their motions may be properly considered. The Court ...