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United States of America v. Thomas Reeves Todd Reeves

May 17, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
THOMAS REEVES TODD REEVES RENEE REEVES SHELLROCK, LLC KENNETH W. BAILEY MARK BRYAN PAMELA MELONEY HARBOR HOUSE, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, Chief Judge:

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on several motions to suppress filed by multiple defendants. In addition to determining whether a business owner and an employee have standing to challenge the search of the employee's workplace computer, the principal issue is whether a federal agent, searching computer files pursuant to a warrant limiting the search to certain "records, electronic or hard copy, from January 1, 2007 through December 31, 2007," properly searched and seized documents from 2003 and 2004 located in the computer's files.

First, Defendants Todd Reeves and Shellrock, LLC filed a motion to suppress all pre-2007 documents seized from Todd Reeves' home and Shellrock, LLC's premises [Docket Item 122]. This motion was joined by Defendant Renee Reeves [Docket Item 124] and Defendant Thomas Reeves [Docket Item 123]. These defendants argue the government exceeded the scope of their warrant which limited their search to oyster records from January 1, 2007 to December 31, 2007 only. Neither the search warrants nor the recently produced search warrant affidavits contain any reference to any alleged crime pre-dating the 2007 oyster season. Therefore, these defendants argue the government's seizure of pre-2007 documents during the execution of this search warrant was without probable cause, beyond the scope of the warrant and therefore unreasonable.

Defendants Mark Bryan and Harbor House, LLC, filed a second motion to suppress alleging similar arguments [Docket Item 127]. This motion was joined by Defendant Pamela Meloney [Docket Item 129] and Defendant Kenneth Bailey [Docket Item 130]. Defendants Bryan and Harbor House move to suppress all pre-2007 documents seized from the Harbor House premises and Harbor House computers and also move to suppress all electronic documents seized by the government during the execution of the search warrant. First, Defendants Bryan and Harbor House argue the affidavit to the search warrant does not support a finding of probable cause for the government to search Harbor House's computers. Second, Defendants Bryan and Harbor House argue that any pre-2007 documents seized from the Harbor House premises or computers must be suppressed as these documents were beyond the scope of the warrant.

The government opposed both sets of motions and the Court convened the suppression hearing and heard oral argument on April 24, 2012. Several of these motions were resolved at the hearing.*fn1

The only motion remaining after oral argument is Defendants Bryan and Harbor House's motion to suppress which was joined by Defendant Meloney, and the suppression of only two pre-2007 documents seized from Meloney's work computer at Harbor House's office is at issue, as these are the only two documents predating 2007 seized from the Harbor House office that the government seeks to use at trial. The court reserved decision and now decides the matter.

II. BACKGROUND

The instant criminal action involves an alleged conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and obstruct justice. These charges are based on the alleged over-harvesting of oysters and falsification of records regarding oysters sales. Multiple Defendants are charged including Thomas Reeves, Todd Reeves, Renee Reeves, Shellrock, LLC, Kenneth W. Bailey, Mark Bryan, Pamela Meloney and Harbor House, Inc.

These defendants have intertwined relationships. Thomas Reeves and Todd Reeves are brothers. Both brothers are 50% co-owners of Shellrock, LLC. Renee Reeves is the wife of Todd Reeves. Mark Bryan is one of the owners and operators of Harbor House, Inc. Pamela Meloney is an employee of Harbor House.

During oral argument on the previous pretrial motions on March 16, 2012, it was made known to the court that the government had not disclosed the search warrant affidavits to the Defendants prior to the deadline for filing pretrial motions. Due to this late disclosure, the court granted the Defendants leave to file additional motions to suppress based on these affidavits as long as these motions were filed no later than April 5, 2012. [Docket Item 120.] In addition, the government was instructed to file a bill of particulars detailing the Harvest Date and Number of Bushels for each occasion alluded to in Count I.

The government filed its bill of particulars of which 19 of the 27 overt acts in Count I are based on harvest dates prior to 2007. The remaining 8 overt acts in Count I are based on harvest dates in 2007. [Docket Item 121.]

As discussed above, the only remaining motion before the court is Defendants Bryan and Harbor House's motion to suppress [Docket Item 127] which Defendant Pamela Meloney joined [Docket Item 129]. For the reasons discussed herein, the court finds that Defendant Pamela Meloney's motion to join should be granted as she has standing to challenge the search warrant executed on her harbor House computer.

During oral argument, the government maintained that only two pre-2007 documents seized pursuant to the Harbor House search warrant were being offered in the government's case in chief against Bryan, Meloney and Harbor House. Both of these documents were found during the government's search of Meloney's computer in her workspace at Harbor House. They are entitled "Book 1.xls" and "Reeves Bros.xls." (Gov't Exs. 2 and 3.) "Book 1.xls" was created on December 17, 2003, was last modified on May 14, 2004 and last accessed on February 3, 2009. (Gov't Ex. 2.). "Reeves Bros.xls" was created on May 14, 2004, was last modified on May 14, 2004 and last accessed on February 3, 2009. (Gov't Ex. 3.) Both documents contain the purchase date, harvest date, bushel quantity and cost for oyster purchases from the Reeves Brothers in April 2004 and May 2004 respectively. (Gov't Exs. 2 and 3.) Both documents were retrieved from the "My Documents" folder on Pamela Meloney's computer on her desk.

For the reasons discussed below, the Court concludes that probable cause existed to search Harbor House's electronic documents as well as the paper documents contained on the premises. However, the court finds that the search of the Harbor House computers exceeded the scope of the warrant without reasonable precautions to confine the computer search within that scope and was therefore unreasonable. Therefore, the Court concludes it is appropriate to suppress the pre-2007 documents recovered from the Harbor House computers.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Summary of the Arguments

Defendants Mark Bryan and Harbor House, Inc., argue that all pre-2007 documentary evidence seized from the premises of Harbor House, Inc. should be suppressed as beyond the scope of the search warrant. Defendants Mark Bryan and Harbor House, Inc. argue that the search warrant in this case authorized the seizure of records for 2007 only and despite the warrant's limited scope, the government seized documents from Harbor House dating back to 2004.

These defendants also argue that all electronic evidence seized from the premises of Harbor House, Inc., should be suppressed because the search warrant affidavit lacked sufficient facts to support a finding of probable cause. The defendants argue the search warrant affidavit describes a business which relies on paper records and handwritten reports. The only facts offered to justify the seizure of essentially all of Harbor House's electronic devices is that "[w]hile waiting, law enforcement officers observed several employees accessing computers in the office adjacent to Bryan's office." (Def. Harbor House's Exs. 1 and 2, Aff. at ¶ 21.) Defendants Bryan and Harbor House argue that the mere fact there are computers in the office adjacent to Mr. Bryan's office is insufficient to support a finding of probable cause to seize these electronic devices.

Defendant Pamela Meloney joined in Defendants Mark Bryan and Harbor House's motion to suppress. [Docket Item 129.] Defendant Meloney argues that she has standing to join the motion to suppress as to Harbor House, Inc., because she maintained a desk and a computer in her work area and some personal property in or about this area. Defendant Meloney relies on several cases to support her argument that in order to prove standing, a defendant must demonstrate that she had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the place searched or the items seized by showing an actual, subjective expectation of privacy which society is prepared to recognize. See Minnesota v. Olson, 495 U.S. 91 (1990) and United States v. Dickens, 695 F.2d 765, 777-78 (3d Cir. 1982).

The government filed opposition to Defendants Mark Bryan and Harbor House's motion to suppress. [Docket Item 132.]*fn2 The government argues that Defendants Bryan and Harbor House's request to suppress seized electronic evidence is both moot and meritless. First, the government contends that where a warrant authorizes a search of a premises for a particular list of records, the warrant should be read to authorize agents to search a computer they encounter on the premises if they reasonably believe the warrant describes records that might be ...


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