NOTICE OF PROPOSED SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT AND HEARING IN CLASS ACTION FOR OWNERS OF PROPERTY THREATENED WITH CIVIL FORFEITURE  

September 2, 2015 by

 

SOUROVELIS, ET AL. v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL.,

Civil Action No. 2:14-cv-04687-ER

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

TO:  All owners and those with a legal interest in property against which a civil-forfeiture petition has been filed by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County.

You are hereby notified that a hearing has been scheduled for November 2, 2015, at 2:00 p.m., before the Honorable Eduardo C. Robreno of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse, 601 Market Street, Courtroom 15a, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19106, for consideration of a proposed settlement of two claims that have been brought on your behalf in this lawsuit.

I.       Purpose of this Notice

This notice has three purposes:  (1) to inform you about the lawsuit and proposed settlement agreement; (2) to tell you how to obtain more information; and (3) to explain how you may object to the proposed settlement.

 

II.       Background

Plaintiffs brought this class-action lawsuit on August 11, 2014, to challenge six policies and practices of the City of Philadelphia’s civil-forfeiture program under the U.S. Constitution.  The lawsuit does not seek money damages.  Rather, the purpose of the lawsuit is to change Defendants’ policies and practices in conducting civil forfeitures.

The Parties have reached a tentative settlement agreement as to the following two policies and practices challenged by Plaintiffs.

First Claim:  Evicting people from their homes and other real property under “seize and seal” orders without providing any warning, opportunity to be heard, or proof of an emergency or necessity.

Second Claim:  Requiring property owners to give up statutory and constitutional rights in order to be let back into their homes or other real property or to have the forfeiture petition withdrawn.

Plaintiffs contend that both of these policies and practices violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee that no person shall be deprived of property without due process of law.  The remaining four claims are not resolved and will continue to be litigated.

The “Parties” to the settlement are:

  • Plaintiffs Christos Sourovelis, Doila Welch, Norys Hernandez, and Nassir Geiger on behalf of themselves and all members of the settlement classes (collectively “Plaintiffs”);
  • Defendants City of Philadelphia, Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey (collectively, “City Defendants”); and
  • The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and District Attorney R. Seth Williams (collectively, “District Attorney Defendants”).

The Court has preliminary approved this settlement as of August 28, 2015.

 

III.       Description of the Proposed Settlement Agreement

The following description is a summary of the key points in the proposed settlement agreement (“Agreement”).  Information on obtaining a copy of the full, proposed agreement is provided after this summary.

No property owners will receive any cash payment as a result of the Proposed Settlement Agreement.  The Proposed Agreement does not cover any claim for money damages against the District Attorney Defendants or the City Defendants for past conduct in evicting you from your home, or for imposing certain conditions in order to allow you back into your home or in order to dismiss the forfeiture petition.  Property owners are free to pursue or not pursue any claims they may have for past conduct.

The Agreement will take effect on the date that the Court gives final approval.  The Agreement will last for eighteen (18) months, with the potential to be extended if the Court determines that Defendants do not substantially comply with the terms of the Agreement.

             A.        Real Property Seize and Seal Orders

The District Attorney Defendants will not seek, without providing notice or an opportunity to be heard, a “seize and seal” order against any home or other real property under the Controlled Substances Forfeiture Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 6801 et seq., except when all of the following circumstances are satisfied:

  1. Prior approval from a specifically designated person;
  2. Specific facts demonstrating that exigent circumstances exist; and
  3. Specific facts demonstrating that less restrictive measures are insufficient.

The following summarizes new procedures for properties that are currently subject to a “seize and seal” order that Defendants obtained without providing notice or an opportunity to be heard: 

No later than thirty (30) days from the effective date of this Agreement, the District Attorney Defendants will move to dismiss any “seize and seal” order presently in effect on a property owner’s home.  If, after any existing “seize and seal” order has been dismissed, the District Attorney Defendants determine that there are emergency or “exigent” circumstances that the District Attorney Defendants cannot address through less restrictive measures, they will comply with new procedures to apply for a “seize and seal” order.

If a property owner, whose property is currently subject to a “seize and seal” order, is:  (1) represented by an attorney; and (2) knowingly and voluntarily agrees, in writing, to the continued sealing of his or her property, the District Attorney Defendants may, within thirty (30) days of the effective date of the Agreement, seek to reinstate the “seize and seal” order after providing the property owner with proper notice and presenting the petition to reinstate the “seize and seal” order at a hearing before a judge of the Court of Common Pleas.

             B.        Unsealing Agreements and Settlement Agreements (Consent Motions for Discontinuance)

The following conditions, contained in an unsealing agreement (an agreement allowing re-entry by homeowners after a “seize and seal” order has been lifted) or settlement agreement (an agreement to withdraw a forfeiture petition), are void and will not be enforced:

  1. Giving up statutory or constitutional defenses or claims in any future proceedings, including agreeing to automatic forfeiture of property;
  1. Restricting access to the property by any relative, defined to include up to fifth-degree relatives;
  1. Restricting access to the property by any non-relative, unless the non-relative has been convicted of distributing illegal controlled substances;
  1. Giving the Commonwealth the power to review, approve, or reject prospective lessees, tenants, buyers, residents, or transferees of the property; and
  1. Requiring property owners to screen or disclose personal information (including, but not limited to, social security numbers and dates of birth) about prospective lessees, tenants, buyers, residents, or transferees of the property.

Within thirty (30) days of the effective date of the Agreement, the District Attorney Defendants will inform all property owners who have entered into unsealing or settlement agreements containing the above conditions that these conditions no longer apply.

Additionally, the District Attorney Defendants will produce to Plaintiffs specific documents to ensure compliance with this Agreement.

Finally, Plaintiffs reserve the right to challenge any condition contained in future unsealing or settlement agreements as an unconstitutional condition.

             C.        Attorneys’ Fees

Under this settlement, Plaintiffs may be awarded attorneys’ fees or costs to compensate them for their time and work in litigating the First and Second Claims that are the subject of the Proposed Settlement Agreement.  The amount of any attorneys’ fees paid to Plaintiffs will be made public.

 

IV.       For Further Information

THIS IS A SUMMARY OF THE PROPOSED AGREEMENT.  TO UNDERSTAND IT FULLY, YOU SHOULD READ THE ENTIRE AGREEMENT.  Copies of the proposed settlement may be obtained from:

  1. Counsel for the Plaintiffs’ Websites: ij.org/philadelphia-forfeiture  and

http://endforfeiture.com/philadelphia-forfeiture

  1. The District Attorney’s Website: phila.gov/districtattorney/notices.html.
  1. The City of Philadelphia’s Website: https://www.phillypolice.com/forms/index.html
  1. Courtroom 478 in City Hall.
  1. To obtain copies of the Agreement in alternate accessible formats, please contact Plaintiffs’ counsel listed below.

 

V.       Procedures for Agreement or Objection

IF YOU AGREE with the proposed settlement, you do not need to do anything at this time.  If you wish to attend, you may be present at the public hearing on the proposed settlement as stated above.

IF YOU DISAGREE with the proposed settlement, you have a right to object to it.  Your objections will be considered by the Court as it reviews the settlement ONLY IF you follow these procedures:

  1. Objections must be filed in writing by mail to the Clerk of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, 601 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106.

ALL OBJECTIONS MUST CONTAIN THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION:

a.   Name, address, and telephone number of the person filing the objection;

b.   A statement of the reasons for the objection; and

c.   A statement that copies of the objections have also been sent to the attorneys listed at the end of this Notice.

 

  1. You must send copies of your objections to all attorneys listed at the end of this Notice.

 

  1. The deadline for filing objections and mailing them to the attorneys listed below is October 7, 2015. If Objections are filed by mail, they must be postmarked on or before October 7, 2015 to be considered timely.  Objections filed or mailed on or after that date will not be considered.  Class members who fail to file objections on or before October 7, 2015 will not be permitted to testify at the settlement hearing.

 

  1. No later than October 21, 2015, the attorneys for Plaintiffs and Defendants shall file and serve responses, if any, to objections they timely receive from persons opposed to the proposed settlement.

 

  1. Any objector wishing to appear and/or testify at the fairness hearing shall submit to the Court a request to appear and/or testify at the hearing, identifying the objector by name and address, and setting forth generally the nature of the proposed testimony by October 27, 2015.

 

Attorneys’ Names and Addresses for the Parties’ Attorneys:

 

For the Plaintiffs:

 

Institute for Justice

Darpana M. Sheth

Milad Emam

901 North Glebe Road, Suite 900

Arlington, VA 22203

Tel:  (703) 682-9331

Fax:  (703) 682-9321

E-mail: dsheth@ij.org; memam@ij.org

 

 

 

Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg

David Rudovsky (I.D. Number 15168)

The Cast Iron Building

718 Arch Street, Suite 501 South

Philadelphia, PA 19106

Tel:  (215) 925-4400

Email:  drudovsky@krlawphila.com

 

 

For the Defendants:

 

Office of the District Attorney

Elizabeth J. Rubin

Bryan C. Hughes

Three South Penn Square

Philadelphia, PA 19107

Tel:  (215) 686-8787

Email:  bj.graham-rubin@phila.gov

Counsel for Defendants Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and District Attorney R. Seth Williams

 

 

City of Philadelphia Law Department

Michael Miller

1515 Arch Street, 14th Floor

Philadelphia, PA 19102

Tel:  (215) 683-5433

Email:  Michael.R.Miller@phila.gov

Counsel for Defendants City of Philadelphia, Mayor Michael A. Nutter, and Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey

 

PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S STATEMENT ON THE DEATH OF PHILADELPHIA POLICE OFFICER POOLE

August 31, 2015 by

PHILADELPHIA (August 31, 2015) – Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams today issued the following statement on the hit-and-run death of Philadelphia Police Officer Lamar Poole:

On behalf of the 600 men and women of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, we extend our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Officer Lamar Poole and to the entire Philadelphia Police Department. Officer Poole’s death is the second death of a Philadelphia Police Officer by vehicle in as many weeks, which is nothing short of tragic and a powerful reminder that we all have a responsibility to be safe and respectful on our roads and highways.

 

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PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S STATEMENT REACTING TO PENNSYLVANIA SUPREME COURT’S RELEASE OF EMAILS

August 26, 2015 by

PHILADELPHIA (August 26, 2015) – Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams today issued the following statement about today’s email release for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court:

Today the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office received the court filings, exhibits (including e-mails and attachments) released by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court related to litigation in the Thirty-Fifth Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. The Office has clear human relations policies, so the District Attorney believes that a thorough review is necessary of the email chains and any actions current office employees took in their distribution. We will conclude this review as soon as possible.

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MAN REGISTERS VEHICLE WITH FRAUDULENT AMERICAN INDEPENDENT FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY IDENTIFICATION CARD

August 7, 2015 by

Philadelphia – Detectives from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Insurance Fraud Unit investigated Jaimier Washington for registering his vehicle with a fraudulent financial responsibility identification card. On April 29, 2015, Washington struck a parked vehicle with his 2003 Acura. When the Philadelphia Police came to file an accident report for this incident, Washington presented them with an American Independent financial responsibility identification card. Insurance Fraud Unit detectives later retrieved the Penndot title history for Washington’s 2003 Acura and learned that he used the same financial responsibility identification card which he presented to police to register his vehicle on February 23, 2015. Detectives then contacted a representative from American Independent and learned that the listed policy number was not valid. Washington was arrested for Forgery and Insurance Fraud on July 30, 2015. He is next scheduled to appear in Philadelphia Municipal Court for a status listing on August 7, 2015.

THIRD ARREST FOR BODY SHOP OWNER WHO CASHED INSURANCE CLAIM CHECKS BUT FAILED TO PROPERLY REPAIR DAMAGES TO VEHICLES

August 7, 2015 by

Philadelphia – Detectives from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Insurance Fraud Unit investigated Darryl Sewell after receiving complaints from numerous customers. Sewell owns PSK Auto Body and was previously arrested in November of 2013 and June of 2015 by DAO Insurance Fraud detectives for cashing insurance claim checks but failing to properly repair vehicles. During this most recent investigation, Sewell cashed insurance checks from three different customers but did not fix or return any of the vehicles. Sewell received a thirty-three hundred dollar check from Erie Insurance for repairs to a 2006 Nissan, a thirty-seven hundred dollar check from Allstate Insurance for repairs to a 1999 Cadillac and a sixty-three hundred dollar check from GEICO for repairs to a 2012 Volkswagen. Detectives interviewed all three complainants who each stated that they brought their vehicles to Sewell at PSK Auto Body and then signed over their respective insurance checks. All three complainants described how once they finally did retrieve their cars the vehicles were in even worse condition than when they initially left the cars at the shop. In order to corroborate these accounts, detectives went to Richmond Check Cashing and retrieved documents which showed photographs of Sewell cashing the insurance checks and images of the checks themselves. Sewell was arrested for three counts of Insurance Fraud and three counts of Theft by Deception on August 4, 2015. He is next scheduled to appear in Philadelphia Municipal Court for a status listing on August 10, 2015.

PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S STATEMENT ON PENNSYLVANIA ATTORNEY GENERAL KANE’S INDICTMENT

August 6, 2015 by

PHILADELPHIA (August 6, 2015) – Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams today issued the following statement about the indictment of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane:

As DA Ferman said, this is a bad day for law enforcement; but it’s also a bright one. The affidavit asserts that members of the attorney general’s office have used surreptitious and illegal means to target other prosecutors whose official acts were perceived to harm the AG’s interests. Even the attorney general, however, is not beyond the efforts of local prosecutors, judges and grand jurors to uncover evidence of abuse of office. I’m gratified that the legal process is now proceeding on a proper course.

MAN REGISTERS VEHICLE WITH FRAUDULENT ACCESS GENERAL FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY IDENTIFICATION CARD

July 28, 2015 by

Philadelphia – During the course of an ongoing investigation, detectives from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Insurance Fraud Unit investigated Theodore Gaines for registering a vehicle with a fraudulent financial responsibility identification card. Detectives retrieved the Penndot title history for Gaines’s 2004 Chevrolet Impala and learned that he registered the vehicle on December 12, 2011 with an Access General Insurance Company financial responsibility identification card. Detectives contacted a representative from Access General and learned that the listed policy number was not valid. Gaines was arrested on July 21, 2015 for Insurance Fraud, Criminal Conspiracy, Forgery, Tampering with Records, Securing Execution and Unsworn Falsifying. Gaines is next listed for a status hearing on August 4, 2015 in Philadelphia Municipal Court.

WOMAN REGISTERS VEHICLES WITH FRAUDULENT SENTINEL AND ACCESS GENERAL FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY IDENTIFICATION CARDS

July 28, 2015 by

Philadelphia – During the course of an ongoing investigation, detectives from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Insurance Fraud Unit investigated Unique Blocker for registering two vehicles with two different fraudulent financial responsibility identification cards. Detectives retrieved the Penndot title history for Blocker’s 2006 Pontiac Grand Prix and learned that she registered the vehicle on December 18, 2012 with a Sentinel Insurance Company financial responsibility identification card. Detectives contacted a representative from The Hartford insurance company, who oversees Sentinel Insurance, and learned that the listed policy number was not valid. Blocker’s Penndot title history also revealed that she had registered a 2001 Pontiac Montana with an Access General insurance financial responsibility identification card on October 11, 2012. Detectives contacted an investigator from Access General Insurance Company who confirmed that the listed policy number was also not valid. Blocker was arrested on July 23, 2015 for two counts of Insurance Fraud, two counts of Criminal Conspiracy, two counts of Forgery, two counts of Tampering with Records, two counts of Securing Execution and two counts of Unsworn Falsifying. Blocker is next listed for a status hearing on August 4, 2015 in Philadelphia Municipal Court.

WOMAN REPORTS ACCIDENT WHICH OCCURRED THREE DAYS PRIOR TO HER THE GENERAL INSURANCE COMPANY POLICY INCEPTION

July 28, 2015 by

Philadelphia – Detectives from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Insurance Fraud Unit investigated Chivon Ford after receiving a referral from The General Insurance Company. On August 1, 2014, Ford was driving her 2010 Nissan Maxima when she struck the back of a parked SEPTA Route 23 bus. Although the bus did not sustain any damages, Ford’s Nissan incurred heavy front end damage and her airbags deployed as a result of this collision. On August 4, 2014, Ford called The General Insurance Company to reinstate her lapsed policy. A few hours later on that same day, Ford called and reported that she had just struck a SEPTA bus and had damaged her vehicle. Detectives retrieved SEPTA surveillance footage and incident reports which contradicted Ford’s account. SEPTA documentation showed that the accident had in fact taken place on August 1, 2014. The investigation revealed that Ford’s insurance policy had been cancelled for non-payment on July 28, 2014 and that when Ford hit the SEPTA bus she was driving uninsured. Ford obtained her The General insurance policy three days after the accident had actually occurred. Ford was arrested for Insurance Fraud and Theft by Deception on July 17, 2015. She is next scheduled for a status listing on July 24, 2015 in the Philadelphia Municipal Court.

BODY SHOP OWNER RE-ARRESTED FOR CASHING INSURANCE CLAIM CHECKS BUT FAILING TO PROPERLY REPAIR DAMAGES

July 28, 2015 by

Philadelphia – Detectives from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Insurance Fraud Unit investigated Darryl Sewell after receiving a complaint from one of his customers. Sewell owns PSK Auto Body and was previously arrested in November of 2013 by DAO Insurance Fraud detectives for cashing insurance claim checks but failing to properly repair vehicles. In this incident, the complainant brought her 2012 Toyota Camry to PSK Auto Body after receiving a recommendation from a friend. The car was involved in an accident and had damage to the driver’s side rear bumper, trunk lid and tail light. Sewell told the woman that her 2012 Toyota Camry would be repaired within several weeks; however, Sewell failed to return the Camry for approximately six months. When the complainant finally did receive her vehicle, she discovered that there was damage inside of her truck, her GPS was missing, there was dog hair in the back of her car and several lights were out. When the woman took her vehicle to a car dealership for an inspection, she also learned that the factory airbags were taken out of her car and replaced with after-market airbags. The complainant stated that the airbags had not deployed in that accident nor had they deployed before that incident. Therefore, there would have been no need to replace the airbags.

Detectives retrieved the Allstate claim file which contained photographs of the damaged vehicle taken by the Allstate appraiser. When the complainant was showed these photographs, she denied that any of these damages were present when she dropped her vehicle off at PSK Auto Body. Sewell received a total of five thousand dollars to make repairs to the Toyota Camry. He failed to do the proper work and instead enhanced the damages and replaced original parts with shoddy after-market substitutes. Sewell was arrested on July 10, 2015 for Theft by Deception, Insurance Fraud, Theft by Unlawful Taking and Theft – Receiving Stolen Property. He is next scheduled for a status listing in Philadelphia Municipal Court on July 20, 2015.


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