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State v. Gibbons

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

October 12, 2017

STATE OF TENNESSEE, on the relationship of private individuals, Edgar L. Muse, Linda L. Muse and Candi Muse; and EDGAR L. MUSE, LINDA L. MUSE AND CANDI MUSE, Plaintiffs,
BILL GIBBONS, in his individual capacity; DEBORAH MARTIN, in her individual capacity; JOYCE GRIMES SAFLEY, in her individual capacity; NINA HARRIS, in her individual capacity; and JAMES SKEANS, in his individual and in his official capacity for Campbell County Tennessee; CAMPBELL COUNTY, TENNESSEE Defendants.



         This litigation arose from the execution of search and administrative forfeiture warrants in Campbell County, Tennessee, that resulted in the confiscation of Plaintiffs' property. Plaintiffs sue Campbell County and state officials for injunctive and declaratory relief, claiming that Tennessee's administrative forfeiture procedures violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Due Processes Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

         Now before the Court is the question of whether this Court is the appropriate venue to hear this case. Having considered the matter, the Court will transfer this action to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

         I. Factual Background

         Drawn from the Amended Complaint, the relevant factual allegations surrounding the venue issue are these:

         During the last half of February 2015, James Skeans, a Campbell County Deputy Sheriff, obtained two search warrants from Campbell County Criminal Court Judge Shane Sexton. Based on those warrants, Skeans seized property valued at $400, 000 from Plaintiffs. However, and contrary to the commands in Judge Sexton's warrants, Skeans appeared before Campbell County Circuit Court Judge John McAffee and presented him with an affidavit for the issuance of an administrative warrant to forfeit the property pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-33-204. Judge McAffee issued the warrant but allegedly “did not strictly comply with the black letter law of [Tennessee] law, ” making everything that followed thereafter void, including the entry of administrative Orders that led to the forfeiture. (Doc. No. 37, Amended Complaint at ¶ 176).

         The administrative Orders were entered by Nina Harris, a Legal Division Attorney, and Joyce Grimes Safley, an Administrative Judge, both of whom were appointed by Bill Gibbons, the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, and both of whom are alleged to have been acting as Gibbons' agent. After Plaintiffs filed a claim for the return of their property, Harris allegedly failed to establish a timely hearing date as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-33-207(a), and improperly kept the case in “administrative abeyance.” (Id. ¶ 185). Grimes Safley allegedly did not comply with Tennessee's forfeiture law because she “did not attend a docket for forfeiture hearings at the Legal Division in Knoxville, Tennessee, on January 6, 2015, ” (id. ¶220) yet falsely claimed Plaintiffs did not show, and she failed to enter an initial order of forfeiture within 90 days of that alleged hearing as required by law.

         Gibbons is sued because he supervised Harris and Grimes, and his office has the responsibility to train Tennessee law enforcement officers regarding the initiation of administrative forfeiture proceedings. Joe B. Bartlett is sued because he is the Supervisor of the Forfeiture Division and allegedly fail to properly train and supervised those under his command.

         II. Legal Analysis

         Campbell County is in the Eastern District of Tennessee. Because of that, and also because this Court had a case raising similar arguments regarding Tennessee's forfeiture provisions which arose out of Bradley County and was transferred to the Eastern District, Patterson et al. v. Gibbons, Case No. 3:15-cv-01493 (M.D. Tenn. 2015), the Court entered an Order (Doc. No. 49) requiring Plaintiff to show cause as to why this case, too, should not be transferred to that district. Plaintiffs have responded to that Order.[1]


         “For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought or to any district or division to which all parties have consented.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). This statute provides “broad discretion” in determining whether transfer is appropriate, Jackson v. L & F Martin Landscape, 421 F. App'x 482, 484 (6th Cir. 2009), and the exercise of this discretion “does not require a motion; a district court may transfer a case sua sponte, ” Carver v. Knox Cty., 887 F.2d 1287, 1291 (6th Cir. 1989).

         “[I]n ruling on a motion to transfer under § 1404(a), a district court should consider the private interests of the parties, including their convenience and the convenience of potential witnesses, as well as other public-interest concerns, such as systemic integrity and fairness, which come under the rubric of ‘interests of justice.'” Moore v. Rohm & Haas Co., 446 F.3d 643, 647 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Moses v. Bus. Card Exp., Inc., 929 F.2d 1131, ...

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