Republic Nat. Bank of Miami v. United States,
506 U.S. 80 (1992)

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No. 91-767. Argued October 5, 1992-Decided December 14,1992

The Government filed a civil action in the District Court, alleging that a particular residence was subject to forfeiture under 21 U. S. C. § 881 (a)(6) because its owner had purchased it with narcotics trafficking proceeds. After the United States Marshal seized the property, petitioner Bank, which claimed a lien under a recorded mortgage, agreed to the Government's request for a sale of the property, the proceeds of which were retained by the marshal pending disposition of the case. A trial on the merits resulted in a judgment denying the Bank's claim with prejudice and forfeiting the sale proceeds to the United States. When the Bank filed a timely notice of appeal but failed to post a supersedeas bond or seek to stay the execution of the judgment, the marshal, at the Government's request, transferred the sale proceeds to the United States Treasury. The Court of Appeals then granted the Government's motion to dismiss, holding, inter alia, that the removal of the sale proceeds from the judicial district terminated the District Court's in rem jurisdiction.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded. 932 F.2d 1433, reversed and remanded.

JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and IV, concluding that, in an in rem forfeiture action, the Court of Appeals is not divested of jurisdiction by the prevailing party's transfer of the res from the district. The "settled" rule on which the Government relies-that jurisdiction over such a proceeding depends upon continued control of the res-does not exist. Rather, the applicable general principle is that jurisdiction, once vested, is not divested by a discontinuance of possession, although exceptions may exist where, for example, release of the res would render the judgment "useless" because the res could neither be delivered to the complainant nor restored to the claimant. See, e. g., United States v. The Little Charles, 26 F. Cas. 979. The Brig Ann, 9 Cranch 289, 290, distinguished. The fictions of in rem forfeiture were developed primarily to expand the reach of the courts and to furnish remedies for aggrieved parties, not to provide a prevailing party with a means of defeating its adversary's claim for redress. Pp. 84-89, 92-93.


THE CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the Court in part, concluding that a judgment for petitioner in the underlying forfeiture action would not be rendered "useless" by the absence of a specific congressional appropriation authorizing the payment of funds to petitioner. Even if there exist circumstances where funds which have been deposited into the Treasury may be returned absent an appropriation, but cf. Knote v. United States, 95 U. S. 149, 154, it is unnecessary to plow that uncharted ground here. For together, 31 U. S. C. § 1304-the general appropriation for the payment of judgments against the United Statesand 28 U. S. C. § 2465-requiring the return of seized property upon entry of judgment for claimants in forfeiture proceedings-would authorize the return of funds in this case in the event petitioner were to prevail below. See Office of Personnel Management v. Richmond, 496 U. S. 414, 432. Pp. 93-96.

BLACKMUN, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and IV, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and WHITE, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Part III, in which STEVENS and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court in part, as to which WHITE, SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined, and an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which WHITE, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined, post, p. 93. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 96. STEVENS, J., post, p. 99, and THOMAS, J., post, p. 99, filed opinions concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

Stanley A. Beiley argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Robert M. Sondak and David S. Garbett.

Robert A. Long, Jr., argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Assistant Attorney General Mueller, Deputy Solicitor General Roberts, and Joseph Douglas Wilson.

JUSTICE BLACKMUN announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and IV, and an opinion with respect to Part III. *

The issue in this case is whether the Court of Appeals may continue to exercise jurisdiction in an in rem civil forfeiture

*JUSTICE STEVENS and JUSTICE O'CONNOR join this opinion in its entirety.

Full Text of Opinion

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