Dusenbery v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Western States Medical Center (Now Kronos Compounding Pharmacy)

DOCKET NO.: 00-6567
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 534 US 161 (2002)
ARGUED: Oct 29, 2001
DECIDED: Jan 08, 2002

Allison M. Zieve - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Jeffrey P. Minear - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

While Larry Dean Dusenbery was in prison on federal drug charges, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began an administrative process to forfeit cash that officers seized when they executed a search warrant for the residence where he was arrested. The FBI sought to notify Dusenbery by sending certified mail addressed to him care of the federal correctional institution where he was incarcerated; to the address of the residence where he was arrested; and to an address in the town where his mother lived. The FBI received no response in the time allotted and turned over the cash to the United States Marshals Service. When Dusenbery moved for the return of all the property and funds seized in his criminal case, the District Court denied the motion. On remand, the District Court ruled that the Government's sending of notice by certified mail to Dusenbery's place of incarceration satisfied his due process rights as to the cash. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


Does the FBI's notice of intended forfeiture by sending certified letters to inmates while incarcerated satisfy due process?

Media for Dusenbery v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 29, 2001 in Dusenbery v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 08, 2002 in Dusenbery v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 00-6567, Dusenbery against the United States.

The issue before us in this case is whether the FBI's sending of a forfeiture notice by certified mail to a prisoner housed at a federal correctional facility with procedures for delivering the mail to its inmate satisfies due process.

We hold that it does.

Petitioner was arrested in 1986 at a house trailer in Ohio.

Later that day FBI officers executed a search warrant for the premises and seized drugs, guns, miscellaneous property items in a total of some $21,000 in cash.

Two years after the petitioner pleaded guilty to drug possession charges, the FBI obtained an order from the District Court to destroy the firearms which were no longer needed as evidence, and started the process of administratively forfeiting the cash and other properties seized under the Controlled Substances Act.

It sent notice of its intention to forfeit the cash by certified mail to petitioner at the federal prison where he was being held.

It also published legal notice for three weeks in a Cleveland newspaper.

The FBI received no response from these notices and so it declared the cash forfeited.

Nearly five years later, petitioner sought return of this property in the District Court.

The District Court held the FBI's notice by certified mail satisfied due process.

The Court of Appeals affirmed.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk of the Court today, we affirm that judgment.

This case is governed by the principle announced in Mullane versus Central Hanover Bank & Trust Company.

There we said that when the government seeks to deprive persons of property, the due process clause requires notice reasonably calculated under all the circumstances.

To apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objection.

In this case, the government showed that notice was sent by certified mail to petitioner at the correctional facility where he was located.

At that facility, prison mail room staff went to the city post office everyday to pick up inmate mail, sign for the certified mail and entered it in a prison mail room logbook.

A member of the inmate' Unit Team then sign for the certified mail before taking it in from the mail room and delivering it the inmate during mail call.

The FBI's method of sending the notice was reasonably calculated, we hold to apprise petitioner the fortifier.

The claim by petitioner that he did not actually received the letter is insufficient to render the notice constitutionally defective.

None of our cases have required proof of receipt instead the Government may defend its chosen method on the ground that it is reasonably certain to inform those effected.

Justice Ginsburg has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer joined.