US District Court Ruling Favors Government in Long Running Forfeiture Case
Peter K. Tompa |
April 06, 2017
On March 31, 2017, US District Judge Catherine Blake ordered
the government to return 7 Chinese Cash coins to the Guild and awarded 15 other
Cypriot and Chinese coins to the government.
The Court found that after 8 years of litigation that the government
had failed to establish that 7 of the Chinese coins were subject to restrictions
imposed in 2009.
As to the remaining 7 Cypriot and 8 Chinese coins, the Court
found that the government established its rights to forfeiture merely because
the coins listed on an invoice were of types that appeared on the designated
list for import restrictions. The Court
also held that expert testimony the Guild proffered was either irrelevant or too
general in nature to stave off summary judgment.
In so ruling, the Court ignored additional information the
Guild proffered about the short time frame between when restrictions were
imposed and the import dates for the coins as well as deposition testimony that
suggested that the Cypriot coins had been in the hands of Spink, the English
seller, for years.
The Court also refused to reconsider a previous ruling that
excused the government from showing that the coins were illicitly exported from
Cyprus or China after the date restrictions were imposed. The Guild had argued the plain meaning of the
applicable statute, the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act
(“CPIA”), required it, and that the government had only proven that 15 of the
coins were of types found on the designated lists that were imported after the
date import restrictions were imposed.
In so ruling, the Court glossed over the Guild’s Fifth
Amendment Due Process claim that the government could not be absolved from
proving important elements of its prima
facie case. The Guild had argued
that the Court could not simply assume that the coins at issue were first
discovered within and subject to the export control of Cyprus and China based
on the appearance of the types on the designated list. The Guild also noted in supplemental filings
that other, recent rulings from sister U.S. District Courts within the Fourth
Circuit striking down Trump Administration executive orders on immigration also
supported the Guild’s position that constitutional claims require stringent
judicial review of government actions, including the motivations of the
decision makers. Here, the Guild had proffered
evidence that the decision making was marred by conflicts of interest, the
rejection of the Cultural Property Advisory
Committee’s recommendations, and efforts to mislead the public and Congress in
official government reports.
Ironically, the day the Court issued that ruling, the
government voluntarily relinquished the 7 Chinese coins the Court ordered the government
to return. That return may also prompt
additional briefing as to whether the Court’s order requiring the government to
return the 7 Chinese coins was moot.
The Guild is still considering its options, but will likely
appeal the Court’s ruling. The Court’s decision can be found HERE.
The Guild’s prior briefing of the issues before the Court can be found
elsewhere on the Guild’s website under “News.”