UPDATE: California denies gov’t motion; allows anonymous party to protect safe deposit box assets
On Friday, July 23, 2021, a federal district court in California denied the federal government’s motion to dismiss an individual’s lawsuit seeking the return of property held in one of the safe deposit boxes seized by the FBI in its raid. The plaintiff, identified by a fictitious name, alleged that the government intended to refuse to return his or her property unless he or she waived their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Prosecutors argued in part that it would be “reckless” for the government to return property to an anonymous plaintiff because the government would have no way of knowing whether that person was the true owner.
The court rejected prosecutors’ arguments, including the argument that the unidentified individual cannot proceed anonymously. The court pointed out that USPV did not maintain the names of its box owners—access to boxes was obtained via the box owner’s key or via biometric identity scanners. The court also emphasized that the government seized the contents of the box at issue without individualized probable cause and that the government continues to hold that property without justification. As discussed below, the warrant that the FBI obtained for its raid did not authorize a criminal search or seizure of the contents of individual safe deposit boxes. Undeterred, the government filed a similar motion to dismiss on July 27 in another case with respect to the safe deposit boxes. Nevertheless, it appears that the court’s reasoning bodes well for protecting constitutional rights and preventing true overreaching by the government.