Assigned on Briefs November 1, 2016
from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 140472I Ben
H. Cantrell, Senior Judge
appeal arises from a civil forfeiture. Vernon Lockhart
("Lockhart") was charged and later convicted on a
number of criminal counts related to the distribution of
large amounts of marijuana. The Tennessee Department of
Safety and Homeland Security ("the Department")
declared as forfeited certain of Lockhart's properties
alleged to be derived from illegal drug transactions. An
Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ") found in favor
of the Department by a preponderance of the evidence, a
decision which was affirmed on appeal by the Chancery Court
for Davidson County ("the Trial Court"). Lockhart
appeals to this Court, arguing, in large part, that the
evidence used against him should have been suppressed and
that the ALJ and Trial Court erred by failing to conduct an
analysis of his suppression issue independent of the
resolution of that issue in the criminal court proceedings.
We hold, inter alia, that the ALJ's order of
forfeiture was supported by a preponderance of the evidence
and that the doctrine of collateral estoppel bars Lockhart
from re-litigating whether the evidence should have been
suppressed as that issue has been resolved finally on appeal
in his criminal proceedings. We affirm the judgment of the
Trial Court upholding the ALJ's order declaring
Lockhart's designated properties forfeited to the state.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed; Case Remanded
Elliott Lockhart, pro se appellant.
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, Grant
C. Mullins, Assistant Attorney General, and, Andrée S.
Blumstein, Solicitor General, for the appellee, the Tennessee
Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Commissioner.
Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which W. Neal McBrayer and Brandon O. Gibson, JJ., joined.
MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE
detailed history of Lockhart's criminal investigation and
trial is set forth in the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
opinion State v. Lockhart, No.
M2013-01275-CCA-R3-CD, 2015 WL 5244672 (Tenn. Crim. App.
September 8, 2015), perm. app. appeal denied Jan. 20,
2016. Lockhart was convicted at the trial court level of
14 counts, three of which for money laundering were
overturned on appeal. Lockhart's most ardent and
persistent argument, both in the criminal matter and in this
civil forfeiture matter now before us, is that the evidence
used against him was gathered unlawfully and should be
suppressed. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in
Lockhart, among other things, disagreed with
Lockhart's suppression-based arguments while affirming
most of Lockhart's convictions.
asset forfeiture hearing was held in March 2013. The ALJ
subsequently entered an order which stated, in part, as
1. Beginning in January 2006, the 18th and 20th Judicial
District Drug Task Forces along with the United States Drug
Enforcement Agency (DEA) conducted an investigation of
Claimant, along with several other individuals, through the
use of wiretaps, for drug trafficking of large amounts of
2. The investigation revealed that Claimant devised and
conducted an elaborate operation wherein he, or one of his
co-conspirators, would travel across the country to purchase
large quantities of marijuana and bring it back to Nashville
3. As a part of this elaborate operation, Claimant used
several companies to conceal and/or launder the money he made
through his illegal drug transactions. These companies were
Pyramid Engineering, Reconstruction Management Group, VEL
Properties and VEL Trucking, LLC.
4. The investigation culminated in the issuance of numerous
5. On March 9, 2009, a 2005 GMC Sierra Engineering truck
pulling a gooseneck trailer and driven by Cheyenne Davis was
stopped by the Tennessee Highway Patrol for a traffic
violation. A K-9 narcotic officer alerted to the truck. The
truck and trailer were searched and the trailer was cut open.
It was found to contain approximately 550 pounds of
6. Inside the truck the officers found a TomTom GPS device
and an Aspire I Acer laptop with accessories along with
several telephones. These items were seized.
7. After the search of the truck and trailer, the officers
began executing search warrants on the various properties
identified as the stash houses owned by the claimant.
8. Claimant also owned several homes that were used as
"stash houses" to hide the large quantities of
9. The main location for storing the marijuana was a home,
owned by VEL Properties, located at 6960 Old Hickory
Boulevard, Nashville, Tennessee (6960 OHB). Other properties
known as "201 Cude Lane" and "Pulley Road aka
'The Country'", along with his residence at 5225
Rustic Way, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee were also used as
10. The search warrant executed on Claimant's residence
at 5225 Rustic Way, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee yielded ledgers
that were discovered in the home. These ledgers were
determined by officers to reflect transactions representing
the sale of 5, 702 pounds of marijuana and income from those
sales in the amount of Two million eight hundred thirty four
thousand eight hundred twenty seven dollars ($2, 834,
11. As a result of the search of the Claimant's home,
numerous items were seized. Among those items were an outdoor
surveillance system, a 1999 Chevrolet SK1 pickup truck
containing 10 pounds of marijuana, furniture from the dining
room, living room, kitchen, and master bedroom, tools and
golf clubs. The officers also discovered a hidden $154,
000.00 in U.S. currency hidden in the home.
12. Claimant was indicted and eventually convicted of
fourteen (14) felony counts. (The factual allegations in the
indictments and Claimant's convictions are found at
exhibits 2 A -3B of the technical record and incorporated
herein in their entirety by reference). Claimant was