UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Criminal No. 06-130(1)(DSD/JJG)
United States of America,
Carlos Guillermo Meza,
This matter is before the court upon the motion for the return
of property by pro se defendant Carlos Guillermo Meza. Based on a
review of the file, record and proceedings herein, and for the
following reasons, the motion is denied.
On April 1, 2006, the Anoka Hennepin Drug Task Force (Task
Force) executed a search warrant at Meza’s residence in Brooklyn
Park, Minnesota. Nelson Aff. ¶ 4. Meza was arrested and several
items were seized. On August 18, 2006, Meza pleaded guilty to
conspiracy to distribute and to possession with intent to
distribute 500 grams or more of a detectable amount of
methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A)
and 846. On May 25, 2007, Meza was sentenced to imprisonment for
a term of 168 months. ECF No. 86.
On October 15, 2012, Meza filed a pro se motion for the return
of property pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g).
Specifically, Meza requests the return of “[p]ersonal [i]tems that
[a]re [p]hoto [a]lbums and [o]ther [p]roperty.” Mot. Return
Property 1. On January 18, 2013, the government responded,
explaining that the Task Force has disposed of all property seized
from Meza’s residence. Nelson Aff. ¶ 7.
“Rule 41(g) authorizes a person whose property is seized by
the government to petition the district court for its return.”
Jackson v. United States, 526 F.3d 394, 396 (8th Cir. 2008)
(citation omitted). The movant must establish lawful entitlement
to the property, which “is often satisfied by showing that the
property was seized from the movant’s possession, as a person from
whom property is seized is presumed to have a right to its return.”
Id. at 396-97 (citations omitted).
Once this initial burden is met, the government then must
establish a legitimate reason to retain the property. Legitimate
reasons include that the “defendant is not entitled to lawful
possession of the seized property, the property is contraband or
subject to forfeiture or the government’s need for the property as
evidence continues.” United States v. Vanhorn, 296 F.3d 713, 719
(8th Cir. 2002) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
“Post-conviction filings for the return of property seized in
connection with a criminal case are treated as civil equitable
actions, and the district court where the claimant was tried has
subject-matter jurisdiction ancillary to its criminal jurisdiction
to hear the equitable action.” Thompson v. Covington, 47 F.3d 974,
975 (8th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted).
The government argues that Meza’s motion should be denied
because he fails to present a sufficiently specific motion. See
United States v. Dean, 100 F.3d 19, 21 (5th Cir. 1996) (noting that
factual allegations must be sufficiently definite and that
“[g]eneral or conclusionary assertions will not suffice”). The
court disagrees, and notes that Meza specifically requests the
return of a photo album. See Mot. Return Property 1. Further, the
Task Force evidence log confirms that a photo album was seized.
See Nelson Aff. Ex. 1, ECF No. 90-1, at 15. At the very least,
Meza has requested the return of a photo album with the requisite
specificity. As a result, the motion does not fail on vagueness
The government next argues that it is not in possession of
Meza’s property and, as a result, cannot provide for its return.
Specifically, the federal government argues that it never possessed
Meza’s property and that the Task Force maintained the seized
items. See id. (stating that property was held by “Anoka County
Sheriff”). Even if the federal government never had actual
possession of Meza’s property, it was taken “as part of an
investigation that resulted in [Meza’s] federal prosecution,” and
the federal government had constructive possession of the seized
property. United States v. Story, 170 F. Supp. 2d 863, 867 (D.
Minn. 2001) (citation omitted); see United States v. Pinque, No.
99-33, 2006 WL 1205834, at *2 (D. Minn. May 3, 2006) (same). As a
result, the government’s argument fails, and the fact that the Task
Force retained possession of the seized property does not bar its
The Task Force, however, disposed of the seized items on March
25, 2008, Nelson Aff. ¶ 7, and thus the court cannot order their
return. As a result, the only possible relief is that of a
monetary award. Rule 41(g), however, contains no explicit waiver
regarding sovereign immunity for monetary damages, and the court
“may not use general equitable principles to fill the gap.” United
States v. Hall, 269 F.3d 940, 943 (8th Cir. 2001). In other words,
the court may not award monetary relief under Rule 41(g). See id.
A pro se defendant, however, must be given the opportunity to
state a cognizable action, if one exists.
Other statutes authorize money damages against
the United States, such as the Tucker Act, 28
U.S.C. § 1491, the Little Tucker Act, 28
U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2), and the Federal Tort
Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-81. A cause of
action may accrue under one or more of those
statutes when the government discloses that it
has lost, destroyed, or transferred property
In so stating, the court reiterates that Meza is not
entitled to the return of any property that he may not lawfully
possess or that is contraband. See United States v. Vanhorn, 296
F.3d 713, 719 (8th Cir. 2002).
that would otherwise be subject to a Rule
41[(g)] order to return. If such a cause of
action has accrued, the government’s sovereign
immunity from an award of money damages may
well be waived. Therefore, when a district
court conducting a Rule 41[(g)] proceeding
learns that the government no longer possesses
property that is the subject of the motion to
return, the court should grant the movant
(particularly a movant proceeding pro se ...)
an opportunity to assert an alternative claim
for money damages. The court also retains
equitable jurisdiction under Rule 41[(g)] to
resolve issues of fact that may help to
determine whether such an alternative claim is
Id. at 943 (internal citations omitted). Therefore, the court will
allow Meza an opportunity to file a new motion, asserting any
alternative claim that may exist.
Accordingly, based on the above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:
Defendant’s motion for the return of property [ECF No.
89] is denied;
Defendant has until August 1, 2013, to file a new motion,
asserting any alternative claim he may have regarding the seized
If defendant chooses to file a new motion, he must
specify the items that are subject to his motion.
Dated: June 4, 2013
s/David S. Doty
David S. Doty, Judge
United States District Court