July 23, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Allowing Recovery for Lost Horses Would Effectively Nullify State Forfeiture Proceeding

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Campbell v. City of Spencer on Tuesday, December 16, 2014.

The City of Spencer, Oklahoma, along with the Town of Forest Park and Blaze Equine Rescue seized 44 emaciated and malnourished horses from Ann Campbell’s three properties pursuant to a search warrant issued for one of the properties. The City and Town filed a joint petition in Oklahoma County District Court for forfeiture of the horses as a remedy for animal abuse. During the forfeiture proceeding, Campbell did not raise any argument regarding the scope of the search warrant. The court granted the forfeiture petition, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied certiorari.

Campbell subsequently filed a § 1983 action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, claiming that the municipalities and Blaze had violated the Fourth Amendment in two ways: (1) by withholding from the search warrant information about Campbell’s plan to reduce the number of horses, and (2) by searching the two locations not listed on the warrant. The municipalities filed motions to dismiss on preclusion grounds, since Campbell did not raise her arguments in the state forfeiture proceeding. Blaze filed a motion for summary judgment on preclusion grounds. The district court granted the motions. Campbell appealed.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court, finding the exclusionary rule applied in Oklahoma state forfeiture proceedings and Campbell could have raised her claims in that proceeding. Campbell asserted that the state court judge refused to consider the legality of the evidence, but the Tenth Circuit reviewed the record and  found no evidence of such refusal. Campbell also suggested that suppression issues could not be raised in state court proceedings, which was an incorrect understanding of the law. Because of its conclusion that Campbell could have raised her claims in state court, the Tenth Circuit next considered whether allowing her to pursue the claims in federal court would nullify the original proceeding. The Tenth Circuit could not state with certainty whether barring the suppression would nullify the forfeiture proceeding, but found that allowing Campbell to pursue her claims would impermissibly impair the municipalities’ rights as established in the state court. The Tenth Circuit noted that allowing Campbell to recover the value of the lost horses would suggest the invalidity of the state court’s forfeiture order, and declined to allow recovery.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal as to the municipalities and grant of summary judgment as to Blaze.

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