United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division
JORDAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Intervenor-Claimant Knox
County, Tennessee's Motion to Intervene [doc. 36], the
United States' Response in Opposition [doc. 40],
Intervenor-Claimant Knox County, Tennessee's Motion to
Consolidate [doc. 37], the United States' Response in
Opposition [doc. 41], and Intervenor-Claimant Knox County,
Tennessee's Motion for Oral Argument [doc. 42]. For the
reasons herein, the Court will deny the motions.
United States brought this civil forfeiture action against
two properties-one located at 1308 Selby Lane, Knoxville,
Tennessee 37922 and the other located at 1525 Wembley Hill
Road, Knoxville, Tennessee 37922, (“Defendant
Properties”)-claiming they were subject to forfeiture
under 28 U.S.C. §§ 981(a)(1)(C), 2461. [Verified
Compl., doc. 1, ¶ 8]. Specifically, the United States
alleged that Leslie Janous (“Ms. Janous') purchased
the Defendant Properties with $647, 698 in criminal proceeds,
which she unlawfully obtained through acts of wire fraud, and
that the Defendant Properties were therefore subject to
forfeiture. [Id. ¶ 10]. Three claimants came forward
and asserted an interest in the Defendant Properties-Regions
Bank, The Painted Room, and Scancarbon, Inc. [Regions Bank
Verified Claim, doc. 8; The Painted Room Verified Claim, doc.
15; Scancarbon, Inc. Verified Claim, doc. 16]. Recognizing
their interests, the United States reached an agreement with
them for the final disposition of the Defendant Properties,
and the parties moved to preserve the agreement in a Consent
Order [doc. 19], which provided the United States with the
right to sell the Defendant Properties and use the proceeds
to meet the claimants' interests. [Id. ¶
The Court approved the Consent Order, which, by its own
terms, “constitute[d] entry of a final order of
the United States prepared to sell the Defendant Properties,
a dialogue began between it and Knox County, Tennessee
(“Knox County”)-which, though it was not a party
to the Consent Order, apparently contacted the United States
Attorney's Office and maintained that it too had an
interest in the Defendant Properties,  namely liens for
the payment of back taxes. [See Joint Mot. Hold
Proceeds in Escrow, doc. 21, at 3]. A dispute then arose
between Knox County and the United States, with the United
States contending that Knox County was only entitled to
collect taxes that had accumulated prior to entry of the
Consent Order, not after it. [See United States'
Br., doc. 24, ¶¶ 10-11]. In an effort to resolve
their dispute, the United States acknowledged Knox
County's lien as valid and purported to have waived the
requirement that Knox County must file a verified claim of
interest in the Defendant Properties. [Id. ¶
8]. Together, they moved the Court to hold the proceeds from
the Defendant Properties' sale in escrow, until the Court
could determine the extent of Knox County's liens. [Joint
Mot. Hold Proceeds in Escrow at 3]. Although the Court
granted the parties' motion, [Order, doc. 22], Knox
County soon afterwards moved for relief from the Consent
Order altogether, seeking an order “declaring all
proceedings, orders, and judgments . . . void and of no
effect.” [Mot. Relief, doc. 25, at 1]. The Court denied
Knox County's motion [Order Denying Mot. Relief, doc.
33], and Knox County appealed its decision, [Notice of
Appeal, doc. 34].
Sixth Circuit rejected Knox County's appeal, dismissing
it for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because Knox
County had never properly become a party to the lawsuit in
the first place. [Sixth Circuit's Order, doc. 35, at
3-4]. The Sixth Circuit noted that because a civil forfeiture
action is in rem-meaning that the property subject to
forfeiture, rather than a person, is the defendant-a third
party with an interest in the property has to intervene in
the case before it can protect that interest. [Id.
at 4]. The Sixth Circuit stated that Knox County could have
intervened in three ways: (1) by filing a verified claim, (2)
by filing a motion to intervene under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 24, or (3) by requesting the Sixth Circuit's
permission to intervene in a post-judgment capacity for
purposes of appeal. [Id. at 4]. Because “Knox
County did none of those things, ” it was unable to
recognize Knox County as a party to the case. [Id.
at 3-4]. Now, Knox County reappears before this Court with a
Rule 24 motion to intervene in hand, asking the Court to
acknowledge it as “a party to this civil forfeiture
proceeding, ” [Mot. Intervene ¶ 34], and to set
aside the forfeiture of the Defendant Properties, [Mot.
Relief, doc. 36-1, at 1].
is “[t]he entry into a lawsuit by a third party who,
despite not being named a party to the action, has a personal
stake in the outcome.” Intervention,
Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) (citing
Fed.R.Civ.P. 24). Intervention is available to a party in two
forms under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:
intervention as of right and permissive intervention. Fed. R.
Civ. P 24(a)-(b). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)
permits a party to intervene in an action as of right, which
means a court must allow a party to intervene when that
(1) is given an unconditional right to intervene by a federal
(2) claims an interest relating to the property or
transaction that is the subject of the action, and is so
situated that disposing of the action may as a practical
matter impair or impede the movant's ability to protect
its interest, unless existing parties adequately represent
Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a). Under this language, a would-be
intervenor must satisfy four elements before he is entitled
to intervene: “(1) the motion to intervene is timely;
(2) the proposed intervenor has a substantial legal interest
in the subject matter of the case; (3) the proposed
intervenor's ability to protect their interest may be
impaired in the absence of intervention; and (4) the parties
already before the court cannot adequately protect the
proposed intervenor's interest.” Coal. to
Defend Affirmative Action v. Granholm, 501 F.3d 775, 779
(6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). “[A] failure to
meet [any] one of the [four factors] will require that the
motion be denied.” Grubbs v. Norris, 870 F.2d
343, 345 (6th Cir. 1989).
Knox County does not expressly say so, the type of
intervention that it pursues appears to be intervention as a
matter of right under Rule 24(a), parts of whose language it
recites, if only briefly, in its motion. [See Mot.
Intervene ¶¶ 35-36]. As an initial matter, the fact
that a case like this one is in post-judgment cannot in and
of itself preclude a party from achieving intervention.
See Taylor v. KeyCorp, 680 F.3d 609, 616 n.7 (6th
Cir. 2012) (“Entry of final judgment, alone, is not a
basis upon which to deny a motion to intervene.”
(citing United Airlines, Inc. v. McDonald, 432 U.S.
385, 394-96 (1977))). Rather, the question of whether a
motion to intervene is timely-the first of the four elements
for analysis under Rule 24(a)-is “a matter within the
sound discretion of the district court.” Stotts v.
Memphis Fire Dep't, 679 F.2d 579, 582 (6th Cir.
1982) (citations omitted).
even before the Court weighs the issue of timeliness-or any
issue relating to the four elements for analysis-it must
recognize that intervention is first and foremost a matter of
standing. “For all relief sought, there must
be a litigant with standing, whether that litigant joins the
lawsuit as a plaintiff, a coplaintiff, or an intervenor
of right.” Townof Chester v. Laroe
Estates, Inc., 137 S.Ct. 1645, 1651 (2017) (emphasis
added). Standing to sue is a doctrine that
“limits the category of litigants empowered to maintain
a lawsuit in federal court to seek redress for a legal
wrong.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct.
1540, 1547 (2016) (citations omitted). The legal wrong that
Knox County, as a prospective intervenor, seeks to redress is
the civil forfeiture of the Defendant Properties, and it
requests an order setting aside that forfeiture. [Mot.
Intervene at 9; Mot. Relief at 1]. In reviewing Knox
County's right to intervene and pursue this relief, the
Court has license to raise standing sua sponte