American Bar Association
Media Alerts
Media Alerts - Roy Langbord v. United States Department of the Treasury, et al. - Third Circuit
Decrease font size
Increase font size
April 22, 2015
  Roy Langbord v. United States Department of the Treasury, et al. - Third Circuit
Headline: Government required to return 1933 Double Eagle coins to putative owners because it failed to file a civil forfeiture complaint within 90 days of owners' seized asset claim.

Area of Law: Property, Civil Forfeiture

Issues Presented: Whether CAFRA required the Government to file a complaint for judicial forfeiture within 90 days of the filing of a seized asset claim?

Brief Summary: Putative owners of ten 1933 Double Eagle coins delivered the coins to the Government for purposes of authentication only, seeking an agreement with the Mint to to sell the coins at an auction, and divide the proceeds.
After the coins were authenticated, and the owners requested return of the coins, the Mint stated that it had no intention of seeking forfeiture because the coins were property of the United States. The Mint asserted that the coins had been smuggled out of the Mint. The owners submitted a seized asset claim and demanded return of the coins or filing of a civil forfeiture proceeding. The Third Circuit reversed the District Court denial of the owners' request for summary judgment, holding that the Government was required to have either returned the coins or filed a civil forfeiture proceeding within 90 days of the owners' seized asset claim. The Court vacated all orders that followed that denial, including a jury verdict and subsequent declaratory judgment in favor of the Government, and ordered the Government to return the coins to the owners.

Extended Summary: This case concerns ownership of 10 Double Eagle gold coins minted in 1933 and discovered by the putative owners, the Langbords, in 2002 in a safe that belonged to Joan Langbord's late father. Few of the original Double Eagle coins were ever legally released into circulation due to a 1933 Executive Order removing them from circulation and forbidding the Mint from releasing them. The Government suspected that Langbord's father had smuggled the coins out of the Mint but that was never proved in his lifetime. After the Langbords' discovery, the family tried to reach an agreement with the Mint to sell the coins and split the profits of the sale. They gave the coins to the Mint solely to authenticate them. However, once the coins were authenticated, the Mint refused to return them or to seek forfeiture under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA), asserting that forfeiture was unnecessary because the coins had always been the property of the United States.

The Langbords then filed a "seized asset claim," demanding that the Government return the coins or file a forfeiture proceeding. The Government refused to take either step and the Langbords sued, claiming violations of the Administrative Procedure Act and CAFRA, which requires the Government to either return the property or file a forfeiture proceeding within 90 days of a seized asset claim. The District Court denied the Langbords' motion for summary judgment on the CAFRA claim, holding that the 90 day deadline did not apply because there had been no non-judicial forfeiture because the Government never sent notice to the Langbords that would institute a forfeiture proceeding. However, it also found that the Government had violated the Langbords' Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights by seizing the coins in contravention of the original agreement. It allowed the Government to file a civil forfeiture complaint which resulted in a jury verdict in favor of the Government. The District Court then granted the Government's request for declaratory relief, holding that the coins were property of the Government because they were not lawfully removed from the Mint.

The Third Circuit reversed the District Court's denial of the Langbords' Motion for Summary Judgment. It held that CAFRA required the Government to return the property or to file a forfeiture proceeding within 90 days of the Langbords' seized asset claim. Because the Government did neither, it was required to return the coins to the Langbords. The Third Circuit analyzed the text of CAFRA and found it applies to property that is claimed to have been stolen or embezzled. The Government did not appeal the District Court's ruling that the Government's seizure of the coins was unconstitutional.

The Third Circuit rejected the Government's argument that it could preclude the running of the 90 day period by stating to the property owner that it was not seeking forfeiture, as it did here. The Court held that interpretation was inconsistent with the language of CAFRA which triggers the 90 day deadline once the property owner files a seized asset claim. It further held that the good cause exception allowing an extension of time applies only if the Government seeks the extension before the 90 days expires.

The Third Circuit vacated all orders that followed the denial of the summary judgment motion, including the entry of the jury verdict in favor of the Government, and ordered that the coins be returned to the Langbords. It further reversed the District Court's declaratory judgment in favor of the Government which declared that the coins were and remained the property of the Government. The Third Circuit held that the Government could not use the declaratory judgment process to circumvent the 90 deadline and that declaratory judgment was not available because of the special statutory procedures required under CAFRA.

Judge Sloviter dissented on the grounds that the Government's failure to comply with the 90 day deadline did not require return of the coins. Judge Sloviter noted that the Langbords had the opportunity to participate in a 10 day jury trial to determine whether forfeiture was appropriate, that the evidence at trial showed that the coins were stolen from the Mint, that Langbord's father was complicit in the theft, and that the Langbords knew that of the illegal acquisition and concealed it, thus justifying forfeiture. Judge Sloviter also disputed the majority's interpretation that the special procedures available under CAFRA precluded declaratory relief.

To read the full opinion, please visit http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/124574p.pdf

Panel (if known): McKee, Chief Judge, Rendell, and Sloviter, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: November 19, 2014

Date of Issued Opinion: April 17, 2015

Docket Number: No. 12-4574

Decided: Vacated and remanded

Case Alert Author: Joe Mathew

Counsel: Barry H. Berke, Esq., Eric A. Tirschwell, Esq., Kevin J. Kotch, Esq., and Walter M. Phillips, Jr., Esq., for the Appellants Roy Langbord, David Langbord, and Joan Langbord; and Jacqueline C. Romero, Esq., Nancy Rue, Esq., and Robert Zauzmer, Esq., for the Appellees United States Department of the Treasury, United States Bureau of the Mint, Secretary of the United States Department of the Treasury, Acting General Counsel of the United States Department of the Treasury, Director of the United States Mint, Chief Counsel United States Mint, Deputy Director of the United States Mint, John Doe Nos. 1 to 10 "John Doe" Being Fiction First and Last Names, and United states of America

Author of Opinion: Judge Rendell

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Supervisor: Prof. Susan L. DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 04/22/2015 03:28 PM     3rd Circuit  

FuseTalk Enterprise Edition - © 1999-2018 FuseTalk Inc. All rights reserved.

Discussion Board Usage Agreement

Back to Top