Alvarez v. Smith

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Alvarez v. Smith
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued October 14, 2009
Decided December 8, 2009
Full case nameAlvarez, Cook County State's Attorney v. Smith, et al.
Docket no.08-351
Citations558 U.S. 87 (more)
130 S. Ct. 576; 175 L. Ed. 2d 447
ArgumentOral argument
Opinion announcementOpinion announcement
Case history
PriorSmith v. City of Chicago, 524 F.3d 834 (7th Cir. 2008); cert. granted, 555 U.S. 1169 (2009).
Case dismissed as moot, judgement of the Seventh Circuit vacated
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
John P. Stevens · Antonin Scalia
Anthony Kennedy · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Samuel Alito · Sonia Sotomayor
Case opinions
MajorityBreyer, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Alito, Sotomayor; Stevens (parts I, II)

Alvarez v. Smith, 558 U.S. 87 (2009), was a United States Supreme Court decision on seizure of property by the Chicago Police Department, however the case was declared moot by the Court as the parties agreed that there was no longer contention over the property seized.[1]


Under the Illinois Drug Asset Forfeiture Procedure Act (DAFPA) moveable personal property used in a drug crime is subject to forfeiture and allows the police to seize property without a warrant. In addition it allows the state to keep the property for five months before judicial proceedings begin.

The respondents, all who had had property seized under the law, sued claiming that the State had failed to provide a speedy hearing to reclaim property thus violating Due Process. The District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed the cases based on Seventh Circuit precedent. Respondents appealed to the Seventh Court of Appeals on the grounds that Mathews v. Eldridge[2] requires a hearing before the seizure of real property.

The Appeals Court overruled its precedent and held that DAFPA did not provide the adequate mechanisms for owners to challenge the seizure of their property. The Court reasoned that the length of time (97 to 187 days maximum) was too long. The Seventh Circuit remanded the case back to the District Court and ordered it to devise a mechanism by which an owner can contest the seizure of his property.[3]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The Court declined to answer the question. In oral argument the court learned that the parties no longer disputed ownership of the property in question. Therefore, the majority opinion, written by Justice Breyer, declared the case moot and vacated the judgment of the Seventh Circuit.[1]

Justice Stevens filled a separate opinion, agreeing with Parts I and II of the Majority (which declared the case moot) however opposed Part III which declared the judgment of the Appeals Court vacated. Stevens believed judgments should not be vacated when "the party seeking relief from judgment below caused the mootness by voluntary action,"[4] citing U.S. Bancorp Mortgage Co. v. Bonner Mall Partnership.[5]


  1. ^ a b Alvarez v. Smith, 558 U.S. 87 (2009).
  2. ^ Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976).
  3. ^ Smith v. City of Chicago, 524 F.3d 834 (7th Cir. 2008).
  4. ^ Alvarez, 558 U.S. at 98 (Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).
  5. ^ U.S. Bancorp Mortgage Co. v. Bonner Mall Partnership, 513 U.S. 18 (1994).

External links[edit]