U.S. Court of Appeals hears arguments in 1933 double eagle case

Unusual en banc panel of judges hears arguments
By , Coin World
Published : 10/16/15
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Representatives of the Langbord family and the government met before all of the judges in Philadelphia’s U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on Oct. 14 as the fate of 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagles allegedly discovered in the Langbord family’s safe deposit box remains up in the air after nearly a decade of litigation.

The oral arguments before the en banc panel of judges — as opposed to the three judge panel for the initial appeal — were limited to two definitional questions. First, whether the 1933 double eagles should be considered “monetary instruments” or “merchandise” under certain statutes and second, whether the government has waived certain rights on appeal. 

Both sides were allotted 30 minutes to make their points, which were further enumerated in briefs submitted to the court on Oct. 12. Each side received five minutes of uninterrupted time, after which the court questioned attorneys representing both sides.

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The Langbord family’s attorney Barry Berke contended that the coins were “monetary instruments” and “coins.” As such, they should have been subject to administrative forfeiture and that the government unconstitutionally seized the coins. The family seeks to overturn the a jury’s 2011 decision, confirmed by the district court’s decision in 2012, that awarded the coins to the government. 

The government’s representative Robert Zauzmer argued that the double eagles, referred to as “gold pieces” (though also referred to as “coins” for ease of reference), are not monetary instruments because they were never issued as money and were not in circulation, nor were they merchandise valued at or under $500,000, and therefore the government could not forfeit them in a nonjudicial (administrative) forfeiture proceeding. Further, the government contends that the double eagles were not subject to administrative forfeiture since their value was in excess of $500,000. 

The government added, “The 1933 Double Eagles have been correctly treated by all parties at all times as items of numismatic interest, not as currency, because their value is measured by their value as numismatic items, not their value as currency (which is nil).” 

The government’s brief added, “The coins must be treated, for purposes of the forfeiture statutes, the same way that ancient coins of archaeological interest are treated: as cultural property with a value entirely unrelated to their face denomination,” before concluding that the double eagles do not fall within the type of property for which administrative forfeiture is allowed.

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