McGuireWoods Provides Pro Bono Support for Civil Rights Case at U.S. Supreme Court

April 26, 2023

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a dispute that could safeguard important due process rights for innocent owners whose property has been seized by police. McGuireWoods attorneys with the firm’s Appellate Justice Initiative drafted an amicus brief on behalf of The Rutherford Institute urging the court to accept the case, arguing that it presents a critically important question for the high court to decide. The Rutherford Institute is a nonprofit civil liberties organization dedicated to defending freedom and the rule of law.

In the brief, McGuireWoods Richmond partner Greg DuBoff and Washington, D.C., associates Francis Aul and TJ Whittle asked the Supreme Court to hear Culley v. Marshall, the consolidated appeals of two Alabama women whose cars were seized by police incident to the arrest of other individuals.

In both cases, the cars were impounded for more than a year before courts ruled the women were innocent owners entitled to return of their property. The petitioners sued several state officials, contending that Alabama violated their due process rights by denying them a prompt opportunity to challenge the seizure prior to eventual forfeiture proceedings. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit disagreed and, in the process, parted ways with other federal circuit decisions on the same constitutional question.

In its brief, the McGuireWoods team urged the court to “intervene to resolve the split and bring much needed clarity to an issue that has such far-reaching effects on property owners.” The brief highlighted, among other things, the particular importance of motor vehicles as a means of transportation and earning a livelihood, as well as well-documented patterns of abusive forfeiture practices by state and local authorities. The court granted certiorari on April 17, 2023, and will hear oral arguments during its October 2023 Term.

McGuireWoods’ Appellate Justice Initiative includes dozens of volunteer lawyers, paralegals and professional staff dedicated to identifying and challenging practices that infringe on the constitutional rights of defendants. The initiative received recognition in Financial Times’ 2022 North America Innovative Lawyers Report.