Foor v. Smith – 3/6/2018

April 4, 2018

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that civil forfeiture actions in municipal court proceedings require the disclosure of exculpatory and impeachment evidence beneficial to the defendant’s case when ordinary discovery procedures are not available.

The Arizona Humane Society seized several cats under the supervision of the Phoenix Police Department from a resident who was keeping the cats under allegedly inhumane conditions.  The municipal court held a post-seizure forfeiture hearing and concluded that the seizure was proper.  The resident then instituted a special action, alleging that the City of Phoenix violated her constitutional due process rights under Brady v. Maryland by failing to disclose exculpatory or impeachment evidence regarding potential misconduct by the police officers involved in the forfeiture.  The superior court granted review, but concluded that these Brady due process disclosure rights did not apply to civil cases and denied the special action on the merits.

Although the Court of Appeals affirmed because the failure to disclose exculpatory or impeachment evidence was not material to the outcome of the forfeiture hearing, it also held that Brady did apply in the civil case.  Addressing an issue of first impression, the Court of Appeals held that Brady disclosure requirements apply in civil forfeiture actions in Phoenix municipal court because the applicable procedural rules prohibit the typical disclosure and discovery rights that would allow a defendant to present a meaningful defense.  The Court of Appeals reasoned that Brady has been extended, albeit rarely, beyond criminal cases, particularly when the government exercises powers available only to the government.  The Court of Appeals also recognized similar civil forfeiture cases in superior court and civil cases in justice court have extensive discovery procedures not mandated in municipal court.  In addition, several courts outside of Arizona have extended Brady protections to civil matters. 

The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the special action, however, because it concluded that the resident had failed to prove that exclusion of the evidence provided by the police officer was material to the municipal court’s findings.

Judge Perkins authored the opinion in which Judge Jones joined.  Judge Thompson specially concurred.