US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has authority to hold, examine, detain and/or seize goods that are entering or exiting the United States. Where goods are seized, CBP will transfer them to a bonded warehouse and the case will be reviewed by the department of Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures (FP&F). After their review, a Notice of Seizure and Information to Claimants (Notice of Seizure) will be sent to any party with a potential interest in the subject goods.
If you have received a Notice of Seizure with respect to your goods, you must prepare a response in a timely manner. Interested parties have a limited time from the date of the notice to respond to CBP with their position. Whether the goods are released, and the conditions that must be met beforehand, will depend on the reasons for the seizure and the alleged violations by the importer. Working with an experienced customs attorney as your representative in this process will ensure the correct procedures are followed and avoid any unnecessary delays or additional costs.
The Notice of Seizure will identify the goods, the location they were seized, and provide the legal basis for the seizure. It will also provide a summary of four options for resolving the matter with CBP. These generally include:
- File a Petition in Response to the Seizure
An alleged violator is given thirty (30) days from the issuance date of the Notice of Seizure to file a petition as an official response, to either dispute, negotiate, or otherwise request relief from the seizure. Although petitions do not need to be in any particular form, they must include a description of the property involved, the date and location of the seizure, and the facts and circumstances that warrant relief from forfeiture. While your petition is pending, CBP will refrain from commencing forfeiture proceedings. Any such proceedings that have already been commenced will be halted.
Companies should always hire an experienced customs attorney to draft and file a petition on their behalf. CBP will not be influenced by emotional appeals or attempts to excuse an alleged violation. Your petition must include legal arguments with specific references to appropriate authorities, including relevant statutes, current case law, and government policies that support your position and demonstrate why the goods in question should be released from seizure. Most importantly, it must be drafted carefully to avoid any admissions or statements that might jeopardize your right to recover your property.
In most cases, CBP applies an established framework for handling particular types of seizures, including appropriate penalties and fines, that should be followed. At Reidel Law Firm, our comprehensive knowledge of US customs and trade law allows us to draft petitions on behalf of our clients that are aligned with these CBP guidelines.
A petition is often the preferred response for importers whose goods have been seized by US border authorities: it is usually the quickest and least expensive means of avoiding forfeiture. However, this option should only be used when the alleged violation is relatively minor or where it can be remedied by the importer. Similarly, a petition is generally appropriate where the violation in question arises from inadvertence or mere negligence, as opposed to gross negligence or purposeful conduct.
- Submit an Offer in Compromise
An offer in compromise is an official offer to pay a monetary settlement in satisfaction of any fines and/or penalties for the violations cited in the notice. Depending on the circumstances, the terms may include provisions for release of the goods. Although this is not the preferred course of action, an offer in compromise may be appropriate where an importer is facing a significant penalty or fine arising from their violations. Like petitions, offers must also be carefully drafted to avoid being rejected.
- Abandon the Goods
A third option is abandonment of the goods to CBP. This will result in their permanent seizure and destruction without any further notice to you. Once the goods have been abandoned, you will not be compensated for any losses. Furthermore, this option does not resolve any fines or legal implications arising from the alleged customs violation.
Compared to hiring a lawyer to draft a petition or make an offer in compromise, abandonment is the most straightforward option. However, as noted above, importers who abandon their goods may still be on the hook for a range of additional costs. A customs attorney can review the facts of your case and determine whether abandonment is an appropriate course of action.
- Court Action
Your final option is to request that the matter be referred to the US Attorney for judicial hearings on the matter. This is an expensive course of action: a hearing will cost significantly more than a petition, offer in compromise, or abandonment. Importers pursuing a court action must post a bond of either $5,000.00 or 10% of the value of the seized goods (whichever is less). They must also hire attorneys to litigate the case. As a result, a court action is rarely the best recourse for importers facing a Notice of Seizure.
There are limited cases where a court action may be the best strategic choice for your business, but this decision should only be made in close consultation with your customs attorney.
Get Experienced Customs and Trade Law Advice with Reidel Law Firm
If you have received a Notice of Seizure, it is important to act promptly and communicate your selection to CBP: a response indicates your good faith attempt to resolve the allegations in the Notice. Repeated customs violations, or any failure to respond, may result in your company or suppliers being “flagged” by CBP for more frequent screening of your goods.
The customs and trade division at Reidel Law Firm has years of experience providing strategic advice to companies faced with alleged CBP violations. At every stage of the process, we work closely with our clients to safeguard their business interests. Reach out to Reidel Law Firm today using the email button below, or by calling 1-832-510-3292.