US v. James Daniel Good Real Property
Decided on Dec. 13, 1993; 510 US 43

Government seizes house and four acres of land from marijuana dealer


A. Issues Discussed: Criminal Justice (drugs), 5th Amendment, Due Process, Notice and Hearing, 4th Amendment, Search and Seizure, Property Forfeiture

B. Legal Question Presented:

In the absence of exigent circumstances, may the government seize real property by civil forfeiture without first providing notice and an opportunity to be heard to the property owner?

A. Background:

During a January 1985 raid on his home, respondent James Daniel Good was found to be in possession of 89 pounds of marijuana, marijuana seeds, vials containing hashish oil, and other drug paraphernalia.  Mr. Good ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year in jail, five years of probation, and a fine, as well as being required to forfeit $3,187 in cash found on the premises during the raid of his home.

In August, 1989, the United States (petitioner) filed an action in the US District Court for Hawaii seeking forfeiture of Mr. Good’s house and the four-acre parcel of land on which it is situated.  “The United States sought forfeiture under 21 USC Section 881(a)(7), on the ground that the property had been used to commit or facilitate the commission of a federal drug offense.”

Subsequently, the Government seized Mr. Good’s property without providing him prior notice or the opportunity for an adversary hearing.  Mr. Good filed a claim asserting that the seizure was invalid because it deprived him of his property without due process of law and that the forfeiture action was invalid because it had not been timely commenced.  The district court granted the Government’s motion for summary judgment, entering an order forfeiting the property.

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously held that the seizure of Good’s property, without prior notice and a hearing, violated the 5th Amendment's Due Process Clause, and, in a split decision, held that the district court erred in finding the seizure action timely.  The US Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a split among the circuit courts regarding the due process question presented.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Christopher J. Yuen argued the cause for Respondents. Edwin S. Kneedler argued the cause for Petitioner.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
S. A. Reiss, R. A. Rothman, K. Oberlies, S. R. Shapiro, and J. A. Powell filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, as amicus curiae, urging affirmance. No amici curiae briefs were filed on behalf of petitioner.

"Though the Fourth Amendment places limits on the Government's power to seize property for purposes of forfeiture, it does not provide the sole measure of constitutional protection that must be afforded property owners in forfeiture proceedings. So even assuming that the Fourth Amendment were satisfied in this case, it remains for us to determine whether the seizure complied with our well settled jurisprudence under the Due Process Clause…

The right to prior notice and a hearing is central to the Constitution's command of due process... We tolerate some exceptions to the general rule requiring predeprivation notice and hearing, but only in 'extraordinary situations where some valid governmental interest is at stake that justifies postponing the hearing until after the event...'

In sum… we hold that the seizure of real property under 881(a)(7) is not one of those extraordinary instances that justify the postponement of notice and hearing. Unless exigent circumstances are present, the Due Process Clause requires the Government to afford notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard before seizing real property subject to civil forfeiture...  We agree with the Court of Appeals that no showing of exigent circumstances has been made in this case, and we affirm its ruling that the ex parte seizure of Good's real property violated due process...

Courts may not dismiss a forfeiture action filed within the five-year statute of limitations for noncompliance with the internal timing requirements of 1602-1604. The Government filed the action in this case within the five-year statute of limitations, and that sufficed to make it timely..."
Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 4 Con
  • Kennedy, A. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined Rehnquist’s opinion)
  • O’Connor, S. Con (Joined Rehnquist’s opinion in part, wrote opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part)
  • Thomas, C. Con (Wrote opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part)

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the US Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 5-4 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.