December 8, 2009
Court Rules Alvarez v. Smith Moot
The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that the plaintiffs' procedural due process claim in Alvarez v. Smith was moot, after the parties resolved their property disputes during the course of the litigation.
The case involved the Illinois Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act ("DAFPA"), which authorizes local law enforcement to seize vehicles, aircraft, vessels, and money involved in certain drug crimes. Under DAFPA, authorities can hold property worth more than $20,000 for up to 97 days after the seizure and before the state's attorney files judicial forfeiture proceedings. Authorities can hold property worth less than $20,000 for up to 187 days before the state's attorney files forfeiture proceedings.
Six plaintiffs who had cars and cash seized under the DAFPA sued the Cook County State's Attorney under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, arguing that the DAFPA violated, on its face, the three-part procedural due process balancing test in U.S. v. James Daniel Good Real Property and Mathews v. Eldridge. The Seventh Circuit ruled for the plaintiffs.
The Supreme Court asked the parties to brief mootness, and, at oral argument, learned that the parties resolved the property dispute: the state returned all seized cars, and individual property owners either forfeited the cash or accepted the state's partial return as final. A unanimous Court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that they sought certification as a class (because plaintiffs did not appeal the denial of class certification) and the argument that the practice was "capable of repetition" while "evading review" (because the plaintiffs failed to show that they were likely again to be subject to the DAFPA, citing Los Angeles v. Lyons) and ruled the claim moot.
Justice Stevens filed a partial dissent in the case, arguing that the Court should not have vacated the Seventh Circuit's judgment.
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