Dusenberry v. United States Case Brief

Summary of Dusenberry v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court (2002)

Cause of action: The following is a cause of action for relief from dispossession of items which were seized during a forfeiture proceeding which appellant claims was the result of lack of notice.

Procedural History: District Court entered an order allowing discovery & subsequently presided over a telephone deposition of James Lawson, an Inmate Systems Officer at FCI Milan (PL’s prison). After his testimony, ruling for U.S., and case went to Court of Appeals held the government seizure was comparable to that of Mullane v. Central Hanover, and the Court granted cert.

Facts: Dusenberry was sent to prison on a narcotics offense, and had some money seized which the feds thought were part of his prior dealings. Several years later, FBI sought and obtained forfeiture of that cash. 5 years later, PL wants his money back, claiming he was never given notice of the forfeiture proceedings and he had no notice to contest the feds’ actions.

Issue(s): Under federal rules of civil procedure, does the government’s attempt to notify petitioner meet 5th amendment standards of Due Process when the government sent letters to appellant without checking to make sure he was receiving them?

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: Again, this becomes a federal question b/c of the federal party which is a DF, and since this is the case, the Court will follow the due process clause of the 5th amendment. Since the decision in Mullane, the Court has relucted to stray away from it, as they see a rule which grants the minimum notice requirement in situations where it may be burdensome in some manner to be sure a certain type of notice be delivered.

The government here carried its burden of showing how the mail was delivered. Although, PL claims he was deprived of his right to due process b/c the government failed to make arrangements with the Board of Prisons to make sure he had notice, the Court compared the situation to that of someone in the armed forces; their mails do not go checked every time a letter is sent (comparing it to “Saving Private Ryan”). Even if the BOP’s current procedures for receiving the mails is brought into question, it does not change the rule in Mullane being applied here.

Rule: Rule from Mullane: At minimum, the due process clause requires that deprivation of life, liberty, or property by adjudication be preceded by notice and opportunity for hearing appropriate to the nature of the case.

Holding: Yes. Borrowing from the rule in Mullane, mere notice in this case suffices the 5th amendment requirement, as the government is not responsible for the actions of how the mails get delivered.

Dissenting: (Ginsburg, along with Stevens, Souter, Breyer) This decision “diminishes the safeguard of notice, affording an opportunity to be heard, before one is deprived of property.” The procedure of sending notice through the mails in the hopes it will reach the appellant is in their minds “lax.” It is, after all, the government which controls inmates’ rights and location. Under the Bureau of Prisons, or the Federal Correctional Institution, as to any set of safeguards routinely employed.

Besides all that, this case differs from Mullane as there is only one person to worry about here, which is not overly costly, time taking or burdensome in any other manner. The mail argument the government offers is baseless as well, showing nothing that the reasonableness or reliability of the mailroom to cell delivery at FCI was in question. “There is little doubt that Hollywood will confuse the rescuers of Private Ryan with a BOP Unit Team member delivering certified mail to inmates in his charge who has been instructed…” to wait around to make sure everything is okay.

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