Civil Forfeiture

Cogdill, Nichols & Farley

Success Protecting Property Rights Under Civil Forfeiture Laws.

In a case which preceded the recent United States Supreme Court decision in Timbs v. Indiana, regarding excess fines in civil forfeiture actions, Ronald E. Farley successfully argued before the Washington State Supreme Court about the inappropriate use of civil seizure and forfeiture of personal property under Washington law.   

On June 29, 2017, the Washington State Supreme Court, sitting en banc, filed a unanimous Opinion analyzing civil forfeiture under Chapter 69.50 RCW, which allows forfeiture of property when it is connected to illegal drug activity.  The Court reversed a decision of Division III of the State Court of Appeals, and vacated an order of forfeiture which included cash and an automobile.

The Supreme Court held there was not "substantial evidence" to support forfeiture even though a user amount of drugs was present in the seized vehicle.  The Opinion stated the purpose of the statute is to target "...the profits of drug manufacturers and distributors, not the property of end-level users who are guilty of nothing more than mere possession."

The Supreme Court Concluded

"Even where the question is limited to whether substantial evidence supports a finding by a mere preponderance of the evidence, appellate review must be sufficiently robust to ensure that an order of forfeiture is in fact supported by substantial evidence so as not to deprive people of significant property rights except as authorized by law.  This is particularly important in the forfeiture context because an individual may lose valuable property even where no drug crime has actually been committed, and because the government has a strong financial incentive to seek forfeiture because the seizing law enforcement agency is entitled to keep or sell most forfeited property."

The Court also held the claimant was "..clearly entitled to reasonable attorney fees."

The case is City of Sunnyside v. Andreas Gonzalez

188 Wn.2d 600, 398 P.3d 1078 (2017)

The appeal was handled and argued by Ronald E. Farley of the Spokane Office of Cogdill, Nichols & Farley.

Mr. Douglas K. Garrison of Sunnyside, Washington represented the claimant at the hearing and Superior Court level.

Experienced Appellate Professionals

The attorneys of Cogdill, Nichols & Farley have handled over forty appellate cases involving claims in both State and Federal Courts.  If you have a need for full appellate representation or simply consultation and assistance in your appeals, we welcome the opportunity to work with you.

For more information or consultation, contact Ronald E. Farley:


Phone (509) 252-5047


Find out more