United States v. Frank Amodeo

United States v. Frank Amodeo, Nos. 15-12643 & 16-15687 (February 21, 2019)

The Court held that the defendant lacked standing to appeal a district court’s partial vacatur of the final forfeiture order in his case. The Court held that the defendant lost all of his rights in the forfeited property when the district court entered a preliminary forfeiture order permanently divesting the defendant of the property. Without any interest in the property, the defendant lacked standing to intervene in, or appeal from, any proceedings involving the forfeited property.

Forfeiture – A defendant lacks standing to appeal a partial vacatur of a final forfeiture order entered in his case where the preliminary order divests the defendant of all of his interests in the forfeited property.

Frank Amodeo was convicted of tax fraud and agreed to the forfeiture of several assets, including two corporations he owned. The district court entered a preliminary forfeiture divesting Amodeo of the corporations, followed by a final forfeiture order vesting title to the corporations in the United States.

After those corporations were sued by Amodeo’s victims, the Government refused to defend the corporations and moved to divest itself of the companies. The district court entered a partial vacatur of the final forfeiture order divesting the Government of the corporations. Amadeo moved to reconsider the vacatur order on the grounds that the district court lacked jurisdiction to alter the order, but the district court found that Amadeo lacked standing.

On appeal, the Court held that Amodeo lacked standing to bring the appeal since he lacked any property interests in the corporations given that the preliminary order was explicitly “a final order of forfeiture as to the defendant.” The Court also noted that Amodeo had unsuccessfully moved to intervene in the civil lawsuits against the corporations after the district court found that the partial vacatur of the final forfeiture order as to the Government’s interests in the corporations did not restore Amodeo’s interests.

The Court held that the civil proceedings governing the forfeited property, including the civil lawsuits and the Government’s motion for a partial vacatur, were ancillary to Amodeo’s criminal forfeiture proceedings. Since the preliminary forfeiture order permanently divested Amodeo of his interests in the corporations, Amodeo no longer had standing to intervene in, or appeal from, any future ancillary proceedings involving the corporations.

Concurring in the judgment, Judge Rosenbaum emphasized that there was “no unyielding jurisdictional hierarchy” requiring that the Court first determine Article III standing before considering other non-merits threshold issues that can dispose of a case. While Amadeo’s “immediately obvious” lack of standing justified a disposition based on a lack of standing in this case, Judge Rosenbaum cautioned that the panel opinion went too far in trying to impose “mandatory sequencing of non-merits issues.”

Appeal from Middle District of Florida

Opinion by W. Pryor, joined by Rosenbaum and Moore (by designation from S.D. Fla.)

TAGS: Forfeiture