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Becerra Law, P.A. sues Customs and Border Protection to get Auto Broker’s Seized Land Rover Returned

Becerra Law, P.A., through its principal Robert J. Becerra, B.C.S., represented an auto broker who attempted to import into the Port of Jacksonville from Europe a refurbished 1992 Land Rover Defender. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized the vehicle, claiming that it did not comply with certain safety requirements required of newer vehicles. The auto broker claimed the vehicle was exempt from such requirements under the laws and regulations due to its age. After administrative forfeiture proceedings, CBP disagreed, but stated that the auto broker, upon payment of a remission amount, could obtain the return of the vehicle if it exported to a country that was not contiguous with the U.S. The auto broker rejected that outcome as it would have impaired the value of the vehicle.

Becerra filed a claim and cost bond with CBP on behalf of the broker requesting commencement of judicial forfeiture proceedings, which under statutes were to be commenced promptly. After several months, CBP had not made the referral to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for commencement of those proceedings. Becerra then filed a Complaint for Return of Property against CBP and the Government in federal court in Jacksonville, demanding the return of the vehicle due to its unlawful deprivation from the auto broker and because the delay in commencing proceedings amounted to a due process violation. Prior to the expiration of time for it to file a responsive pleading in Court, the Government agreed to settle the case by returning the vehicle to the broker to do with it as it pleased, returning the cost bond, and waiving any storage charges or fees. In return, the auto broker dismissed the Complaint for Return of Property without prejudice.

This case shows there are judicial remedies for those importers who, despite availing themselves of the Customs regulations to seek judicial forfeiture proceedings, find themselves at the mercy of CBP administrative delays in compliance with their own laws and regulations to give importers their day in Court.