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Aug. 1 — Ten rare 1933 Double Eagle gold coins, with a face value of $20 each but worth as much as $75 million to collectors, are the property of the U.S. government, the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held Aug. 1 ( Langbord v. Dep't of Treasury, 2016 BL 247592, 3d Cir., en banc, No. 12-4574, 8/1/16 ).
Rejecting the arguments of the family that found the coins in a safe deposit box, the opinion by Judge Thomas M. Hardiman upheld the findings of the district court that the coins are now and always have been the property of the United States.
Among other things, the court noted that the evidence showed “that no 1933 Double Eagle ever left the Mint through authorized channels.”
Rejecting the family's challenges to the trial court's holding, the appeals court said that any lower court errors didn't “affect the outcome” of the case.
Barry H. Berke of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, New York, told Bloomberg BNA the case is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The Langbord family fully intends to seek review by the Supreme Court of this important issue regarding the unbridled power of the government to take and keep a citizen's property,” Berke said in an Aug. 2 e-mail. Berke represented Langbord.
In a statement released to Bloomberg BNA, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said, he was “gratified” that the en banc court recognized “the United States' ownership of these rare coins."
In the same statement, Rhett Jeppson, Principal Deputy Director for the U.S. Mint, said that the decision confirmed that “these national treasures are and always have been property of the United States Mint.”
The decision “is a victory not only for the integrity of government property and the rule of law, but for the integrity of the numismatic hobby,” Jeppson added.
Close to 450,000 1933 Double Eagle gold coins were minted by the United States but never put in circulation.
Most were melted down, but some managed to find their way out of the Mint.
The Secret Service determined that the missing coins were stolen by the Mint's cashier at the time, George McCann, and then distributed by Philadelphia merchant Israel Switt.
Joan Langbord, Switt's daughter, found 10 of the coins in a family safe-deposit box.
Spurred on by the sale of one of the coins in 2002 for over $7.5 million, Langbord contacted the government in an attempt to reach a deal, and eventually turned over the coins for authentication.
After authenticating the coins, the government refused to return them, saying “they are, and always have been, property belonging to the United States.”
Seeking return of the coins, Langbord made a seized asset claim under the 2000 Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, and ultimately sued for relief.
The court forced the government to file a judicial forfeiture action and then ruled in favor of the government.
A Third Circuit panel, however, ordered the government to return the coins to Langbord (83 U.S.L.W. 1557, 4/21/15).
The en banc court vacated the panel ruling and affirmed the district court.
The appeals court said that CAFRA's 90-day limitation period didn't apply because a judicial civil forfeiture, rather than a nonjudicial one, was at play.
Langbord's challenges to the district court's declaratory judgment were also rejected.
CAFRA didn't stop the government from seeking a declaratory judgment; the issues weren't required to be submitted to the a jury because the suit was similar to an equitable quiet title action; and the district court didn't abuse its discretion by allowing the declaratory judgment four years after the litigation began, the court said.
As for challenges to various evidentiary rulings by the district court, the appeals court said that “any evidentiary errors were harmless.”
Dissenting, Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, joined by Chief Judge Theodore A. McKee and Judge Cheryl Ann Krause, argued that CAFRA's 90-day limitation period did apply, and that the coins should be returned to the Langbords.
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP represented Langbord. The U.S. Attorney's Office represented the government.
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