US Coins

Court rules in favor of Langbord family in 1933 double eagle case

A federal court has ruled in favor of the Langbord family in the ongoing suit involving ownership of 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagles. Images by Thomas Mulvaney, courtesy of United States Mint.

Images by Thomas Mulvaney, courtesy of United States Mint.

The Langbord family just may get to keep the 10 1933 double eagles that were allegedly discovered in a safe-deposit box more than a decade ago.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on April 17 vacated a previous declaratory judgment by a district court that declared the coins as government property that was unlawfully removed from the U.S. Mint. In doing this, the appeals court vacated a July 21, 2011, jury decision where 10 jurors unanimously ruled in favor of the government, the jury concluding that the coins were illegally obtained from the U.S. Mint and remain government property.

The three-judge appeals court held that the government was required to file a judicial civil forfeiture complaint or to return the coins within 90 days of receiving the Langbord family’s seized asset claim. The court held, “Because the Government failed to do so, the Langbords are entitled to the return of the Double Eagles.” The case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings, so it is likely that the struggle between the family and the government may continue for some time

Within a CAFRA framework

The April 17 opinion, authored by Marjorie Rendell, analyzes the matter in the framework of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, which Congress passed in 2000 as a reaction to concerns about “the government’s too-zealous pursuit of civil and criminal forfeiture” and as an “effort to deter government overreaching.”

In the case of the government seizing property that someone else purports to own, CAFRA requires the government to file a complaint for judicial forfeiture within 90 days of receipt of a claim or else return the property. Rendell wrote, “Here, the Government failed to follow CAFRA’s procedure, which requires it to file a complaint for judicial forfeiture within 90 days of the filing of a seized asset claim.” The court vacated the District Court’s prior order, and the jury verdict, finding that the government elected to ignore CAFRA.

Rendell wrote in the background, “The ownership of the property in question and how the [Langbord family] obtained possession of it are hotly disputed, but the facts relevant to the disposition of this appeal are not.” In providing the history of this enigmatic issue, which has a complex history closely related to ambiguities at the Mint in the days surrounding President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 executive order that removed gold coins from circulation, the court acknowledged that “a number of 1933 double eagles left the Mint; some were unlawfully smuggled out and at least two left the Mint lawfully.”

Mysterious circumstances

Following the public auction of one coin allegedly formerly owned by Egypt’s King Farouk in 2002 for $7,590,020, Joan Langbord and her sons, Roy and David, allegedly discovered 10 1933 double eagles in a safe deposit box originally belonging to Joan’s father, Israel Switt. In 2004, the Langbords informed the Mint that they had discovered the coins and submitted them to the Mint for authentication. The Mint asserted that the coins were government property and should be returned to the Mint without forfeiture.

MORE COVERAGE: What are those 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagles worth?

When the family sought the coins’ return, the Mint replied that it “has no intention of seeking forfeiture of these ten Double Eagles because they already are, and always have been, property belonging to the United States; this makes forfeiture proceedings entirely unnecessary.”

The appeals court said that the government was wrong in believing that it did not need to abide by CAFRA because it perceived the property as stolen government property. The opinion states, “The Government’s original argument that stolen government property falls outside the protections of CAFRA is incorrect for a simple reason: Congress has specifically enumerated theft or embezzlement of government property as one of the crimes to which CAFRA applies.” Rather, “The Government was required either to return their property or to institute a judicial civil forfeiture proceeding within 90 days of the Langbords’ submission of a seized asset claim.”

The court reversed the district court’s July 29, 2009, order that denied the Langbords’ motion for partial summary judgment regarding the applicability of CAFRA and vacated all orders postdating the July 29 order, including the jury verdict.

A dissenting opinion by Judge Dolores Sloviter agreed with many parts of the majority opinion, but disagreed that the Langbords are entitled to the return of the coins because there is no provision of CAFRA that requires the return of the property.

Keep reading about the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle case:

1933 double eagle case ready to go to trial

1933 double eagle trial: At long last, a conclusion

Langbord 1933 double eagle case may get Nov. 20 review; family, government each file arguments

Government, Langbord family present oral arguments as Philadelphia Court of Appeals hears 1933 $20 case

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