United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
ORDER DENYING WITHOUT PREJUDICE THE PLAINTIFF'S
MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT (DKT. NO. 9), CONSTRUING
CLAIMANT'S REQUEST AS MOTION TO EXTEND DEADLINE FOR HER
TO FILE ANSWER (DKT. NO. 6) AND ORDERING CLAIMANT TO FILE
ANSWER BY JANUARY 3, 2020
PAMELA PEPPER CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
5, 2019, the United States of America filed for civil in
rem forfeiture against approximately $515, 330.76 in
U.S. currency from a Bank of America account ending in 7657
and held in the name of Holie Houghtaling. Dkt. No. 1 at 1-2.
On October 15, 2019, the government filed a motion for
default judgment and attached a certified mail receipt
asserting that Houghtaling signed for and accepted the
complaint on June 15, 2019. Dkt. No. 9 at ¶5. The
plaintiff asserts that the documents Houghtaling accepted on
June 15 informed her that she had to file a claim within
thirty-five days (by July 20, 2019 or so) and that she had to
file an answer within twenty-one days after filing her claim.
Id. at ¶6.
than a month later, on July 11, 2019, Houghtaling filed a
claim and a motion for extension of time to “get more
proof” that $30, 000 of the disputed assets belong to
her. Dkt. No. 6. The court has not yet ruled on that request,
but Houghtaling's answer was due twenty-one days later-by
about August 1, 2019.
October 15, 2019, the plaintiff asked the clerk to enter
default. Dkt. No. 8. The clerk did so that same day. The
plaintiff also filed its motion for default judgment on
October 15, 2019. Dkt. No. 9. The motion states that the
plaintiff waited about a week after the deadline for the
answer had passed, then sent Hougtaling a letter by certified
mail telling her that if she didn't answer by August 30,
2019, the plaintiff would move for default judgment.
Id. at ¶9. The plaintiff says that the
certified mail receipt shows that Houghtaling accepted the
letter around August 13, 2019. Id. at ¶10; Dkt.
plaintiff's motion makes no mention of the fact that
Houghtaling filed a claim, and asked for an extension of time
to “try to get you more proof.” Dkt. No. 6.
Houghtaling doesn't appear to be represented by a lawyer;
she seems to have written her claim and request for extension
of time herself. She also says in the request that she is a
victim and that “the retirement funds are all that
[she] has to live off of, ” and she asks for her $30,
000 to be returned to her. Id.
court understands that the plaintiff's August 8, 2019
letter advised Houghtaling that she needed to file an answer
by August 30, 2019 in order to avoid the plaintiff filing a
motion for default judgment. Dkt. No. 9-1. But it is
possible-maybe even likely-that Houghtaling thought she'd
asked this court for more time to answer, and that she has
been waiting on this court to give her that time.
court will deny without prejudice the plaintiff's motion
for default judgment. The court will construe
Houghtaling's request as a motion to extend the deadline
for her to file an answer, and will give her a deadline of
January 3, 2020 by which to do so. The court advises
Houghtaling that an “answer” is a response to the
allegations in the complaint (a copy of which the court is
including with this order). If Houghtaling wants to challenge
the government's attempt to forfeit the money, she will
need to file an answer disputing the allegations in the
complaint, and she must file it by the January 3, 2020
deadline. The court understands that Houghtaling doesn't
have a lawyer (or didn't at the time she filed her
claim), and that forfeiture law is confusing to a layperson.
But even non-lawyers must abide by court rules and deadlines.
See Nowak v. Transportation Joint Agreement of Cmty.
Consol. Sch. Dist. No. 47, 255 Fed.Appx. 85, 87 (7th
Cir. 2007) (“A district court may insist upon strict
adherence to its local rules even from a pro se
Houghtaling does not file an answer in time for the court to
receive it by the end of the day on January 3, 2020, the
plaintiff may renew its motion for default judgment, and the
court likely will grant it.
court DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE the
plaintiff's motion for default judgment. Dkt. No. 9.
court CONSTRUES Holie Houghtaling's
pleading filed on July 11, 2019 as a motion for an extension
of time to file her answer and GRANTS the
motion for an extension of time. Dkt. No. 6.
court ORDERS that the deadline for claimant
Houghtaling to file an answer is EXTENDED to