Bennis v. Michigan

LOCATION: Virginia Military Institute

DOCKET NO.: 94-8729
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Michigan Supreme Court

CITATION: 516 US 442 (1996)
ARGUED: Nov 29, 1995
DECIDED: Mar 04, 1996

Larry L. Roberts - Argued the cause for the respondent
Richard H. Seamon - Argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance
Stefan B. Herpel - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Bennis's husband was convicted of gross indecency following his sexual activity with a prostitute in the couple's jointly-owned car. The local county prosecutor filed a complaint alleging the car was a public nuisance subject to abatement (i.e., to eliminate or confiscate the car). The Circuit Court entered the abatement order, but the Appeals Court reversed. After granting leave to appeal, the Supreme Court of Michigan reversed the appellate court's decision and re-entered the abatement order. Bennis appealed to the Supreme Court.


Does the abatement order entered against Bennis's car constitute a taking of private property for public use in violation of the property clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments?

Media for Bennis v. Michigan

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 29, 1995 in Bennis v. Michigan

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 04, 1996 in Bennis v. Michigan

William H. Rehnquist:

The case I have to announce is No. 94-8729, Bennis against Michigan.

Petitioner, Tina Bennis was a joint owner with her husband John Bennis of an automobile.

Detroit Police arrested John Bennis after observed him engaging in a sexual act with a prostitute in the automobile which was parked on the Detroit city street.

John Bennis was convicted of gross indecency and the State then sued both John and Tina Bennis to have the car declared a public nuisance and forfeited.

Tina Bennis dissented against the forfeiture of her interest on the ground that she did not know that her husband would use it to violate Michigan’s indecency law.

The Supreme Court of Michigan upheld the lower court's decision forfeiting the car.

Tina Bennis sought review here claiming that Michigan’s forfeiture scheme deprived her in the forfeited property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

We granted certiorari and we now affirm the judgment of the Supreme Court of Michigan.

A long and unbroken line of our cases rejects the innocent owner defense and hold that an owner’s interest in property may be forfeited by reason of the use to which the property has put even when the owner did not know that it was to be put to that use.

These cases are too firmly fixed in the country’s jurisprudence to be overturned at this late date.

Forfeiture prevents illegal uses of the property and forfeit scheme to the extent to an innocent owner preclude the evasion by dispensing with the necessity of judicial inquiries of collusion between the wrongdoer and the alleged innocent owner.

Petitioner also raises a claim under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment which we likewise reject.

The government may not be required to compensate an owner for property which it has already lawfully acquired under the exercise of governmental authority other than the power of eminent domain.

Justice Thomas and Justice Ginsburg have filed separate concurring opinions; Justice Stevens has filed a dissent in which Justices Souter and Breyer have joined; Justice Kennedy has filed a separate dissent.