In Ramirez v. Tulare County District Attorney's Office, published March 15, 2017, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the dismissal on demurrer of multiple trial court petitions for writ of mandate seeking recovery of cash and other personal property that police officers seized from suspects under Health & Safety Code section 11469 et seq. Those forfeiture statutes permit both judicial and nonjudicial forfeiture of personal property connected with unlawful drug activity. The statutes require that either judicial or nonjudicial forfeitures be initiated by the state attorney general or county district attorney. The forfeitures at issue were initiated by police officers, rather than prosecutors. The Tulare County District Attorney's Office asserted that eachwrit petition was barred by the failure to exhaust statutory administrative remedies, failure to present a claim for money or damages under the Government Claims Act, and failure to file the petition within the one-year statute of limitations prescribed by Code of Civil Procedure section 340. The trial court sustained the demurrers on the statute of limitations ground.
The appellate court held that the petitioners had no obligation to exhaust the administrative remedies under the forfeiture statutes, because there were no valid forfeiture proceedings in which to pursue those remedies. The police initiation of nonjudicial forfeiture rendered the forfeitures invalid in the first instance. The Government Claims Act did not require presentation of claims for money or damages, because the petitioners sought return of property, not money or damages. Finally, the one-year statute of limitations of Code of Civil Procedure section 340 did not apply, because it applies to forfeiture actions (i.e., actions seeking forfeiture) or actions for damages for seizure or forfeiture of property. Instead, the three-year statute of limitations under Code of Civil Procedure section 338 for actions seeking specific recovery of personal property applied.