This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Juan Jose Bolanos,
1992 Acura, License Plate No.
MN 248 NNZ, VIN JH4K7677NC025128,
Hennepin County District Court
File No. FP 03-017368
Juan Jose Bolanos, Reg. # 11031-041-Dorm-208, Duluth Federal Prison Camp, P.O. Box 1000, Duluth, MN 55814 (pro se respondent)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Parker, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
appeal from an order denying the prosecuting authority’s motion to dismiss
judicial forfeiture, appellant State of
On May 14, 2003, the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) seized respondent Juan Bolanos’s 1992 Acura pursuant to his arrest for drug possession. On August 22, 2003, the MPD sent respondent a notice of seizure and intent to forfeit property by certified mail pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 609.5314 (2002). The notice of seizure and intent to forfeit property provided, in part, the following:
Forfeiture of this property is automatic unless within 60 days of receipt of this form you demand a judicial determination of this matter. The procedure for obtaining a judicial determination is set out in Minnesota Statutes Section 609.5314, Subdivision 3.
On the reverse side of the notice is Minn. Stat. § 609.5314, subd. 3, which provides, in part, the following instructions:
(a) Within 60 days following service of a notice of seizure and forfeiture under this section, a claimant may file a demand for a judicial determination of the forfeiture. The demand must be in the form of a civil complaint and must be filed with the court administrator in the county in which the seizure occurred, together with proof of service of a copy of the complaint on the county attorney of that county. . . .
Finally, the notice also explained the importance of following these instructions by providing the following:
IF YOU DO NOT
DEMAND JUDICIAL REVIEW EXACTLY AS PRESCRIBED IN
On October 22, 2003, respondent filed a pro se summons and complaint directed to the State of Minnesota in Hennepin County District Court contesting the forfeiture of his vehicle. The summons and complaint did not include the required affidavit of proof of service upon the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. The district court clerk accepted the paperwork. Another clerk then mistakenly directed the summons and complaint to Jay Heffern, the Minneapolis City Attorney. A few days later, the district court sent a scheduling order to respondent and the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office.
On July 19, 2004, the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office notified respondent by letter that the city was not an interested party in the matter and that respondent should contact the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. Respondent responded by filing a pro se motion for return of property along with an affidavit demonstrating his service at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office subsequently filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that respondent’s failure to serve the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office within 60 days after receiving the notice of forfeiture deprived the district court of jurisdiction. On December 7, 2004, the district court denied the state’s motion to dismiss, finding that the court had jurisdiction over the matter. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
The state argues that, under the plain language of Minn. Stat. § 609.5314, subd. 3 (2002), the district court does not have subject matter jurisdiction due to respondent’s failure to properly file his claim. Whether a district court has jurisdiction is a question of law subject to de novo review. Garde v. One 1992 Ford Explorer XLT, 662 N.W.2d 165, 166 (Minn. App. 2003) (citing Strange v. 1997 Jeep Cherokee, 597 N.W.2d 355, 357 (Minn. App. 1999)).
The statute, which was presented on
the notice of forfeiture, states that the demand for judicial determination of
the forfeiture “must be filed with the court administrator in the county in
which the seizure occurred, together with
proof of service of a copy of the
complaint on the county attorney of that county.” Minn. Stat. § 609.5314, subd. 3(a) (emphasis added). The statute also provides that “an action for the return of property seized under this section may not be maintained by or on behalf of any person who has been served with a notice of seizure and forfeiture unless the person has complied with this subdivision.”
The state argues that under Garde, respondent’s failure to comply
with the statutory requirements deprived the court of jurisdiction. In Garde,
the claimant failed to serve the demand for judicial review on the prosecuting
authority according to the statutory requirements.
Relying on Strange v. 1997 Jeep Cherokee, 597 N.W.2d 355 (
In concluding that there was jurisdiction over the matter, the district court stated that:
While [respondent] bears some responsibility for the current state of this case by his failure to serve the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office or any other governmental agency in the first place, the District Court Civil Filing Department’s acceptance of [respondent’s] incomplete filing, the Department’s erroneous assumption that this was a City of Minneapolis matter and the City’s acquiescence to that assumption for almost one year deprived the [respondent] of his additional seven days within the 60 day time limit to serve the correct party. Here, it is not a matter of whether [respondent] strictly complied with the statute’s requirements, but rather whether [respondent] was deprived of his full due process rights through bureaucratic error. Therefore, in the interests of justice, and pursuant to the holding in Strange, this Court finds that it does have jurisdiction over this matter.
As the district court noted, the forfeiture of a motor vehicle is a “harsh penalty.” The district court wanted to give respondent a break. We can sympathize with that decision. However, Strange does not dictate the result the district court sought because, unlike respondent, the claimant in Strange strictly complied with the statutory requirements when filing the initial demand for judicial determination.
Although we agree with the district court
that its civil filing department and the City of
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
 Having not been served with any complaint contesting the forfeiture, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office sent a letter to the MPD advising them that they had “not received a notice for judicial determination from the claimant within 60 days following the above seizure” and that the “claimant has now lost this property and the forfeiture is complete.”
The applicable statute in Garde was Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 8(d) (2000). The wording of this statute is almost identical to that of Minn. Stat. § 609.5314, subd. 3, the statute at issue here. Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 8(d), provides that a claimant filing a demand for judicial determination of a forfeiture must file the civil complaint with the court administrator in the county in which the seizure occurred, “together with proof of service of a copy of the complaint on the prosecuting authority.”