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Appeals Court Rules for U.S. Gov’t in Langbord 1933 Double Eagle Fight


By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
A little over one year after the Philadelphia United States Attorney’s Office filed a petition with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the U.S. Government to rehear the case of Langbord et al v. U.S. Department of Treasury et al (Case No. 12-4574), the en banc court issued a 9-3 ruling in favor of the government’s claims. If this ruling stands, then the Langbord family must surrender all claims to the 1933 $20 double eagle gold coins they recovered from a safety deposit box in 2003, having been placed there by their father and grandfather, Philadelphia businessman Israel Switt, before his death in 1990.

The court had originally heard the government’s appeal on October 14, 2015 but had not ruled until now.

Writing for the majority, Judge Thomas Hardiman said that the Langbords had not presented a scenario whereby Switt had innocently taken the coins from the U.S. Mint. According to Mint documents that detailed how the 445,500 coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1933 were handled, 500 were sent to the cashier, where 29 were consumed for purity and weight testing and two were shipped to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.. The remaining 469 were then stored alongside the other 445,000 in a basement vault, where they were eventually melted down as mandated by the Gold Reserve Act of 1934.

Nowhere in this accounting did Hardiman find a legitimate reason for Switt to come into possession of the double eagles, which meant that the coins were either embezzled or stolen.

Directly addressing the findings of the three-judge panel that found in favor of the Langbord family in April 2015, Hardiman stated that despite the fact that the United States did not initially file for civil forfeiture proceedings according to the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA), a later filing was still timely under that same law. Besides, yesterday’s majority ruling declared, the Langbord family’s “nonjudicial” civil forfeiture was irrelevant and did not bind the government to a 90-day response filing window. The United States has asserted all along that its seizure of the 10 gold coins was merely the repossession of its own lawful property.

Hardiman did, however, agree with the family’s contention that the 1944 Secret Service investigation into Israel Switt’s possible involvement in the theft of the 1933 double eagles, the documentation of which had been admitted into evidence during this lawsuit, contained elements of hearsay. Nevertheless, Hardiman ruled that the investigation’s relevance outweighed any prejudice it might incur against the Langbord-Switts in this case.

Deeming any and all such errors committed during the original 2011 jury trial (which sided with the United States Government) to be harmless to the case, the full Third Circuit Court refused to grant the Langbords a new trial.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Lappen was happy with the results, stating that they affirm the United States is the rightful owner of the gold coins.

Justice Marjorie Rendell, one of the three judges on the 2015 panel that saw merit in the Langbords’ CAFRA claims, wrote the dissent. In it, she again proffered her support of CAFRA, saying that Monday’s ruling ignored what the law is all about. Rendell wrote that the present ruling “enables the Government to nullify all of CAFRA’s protections merely by asserting its ownership of property and lack of intent to forfeit that property.”

Barry Berke, the lawyer representing the Langbords, said that the family does not concede defeat and that they will take the case to the Supreme Court.

“The Langbord family fully intends to seek review by the Supreme Court of the important issue of the unbridled power of the government to take and keep a citizen’s property”, he said.





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Previous coverage of the Langbord-Switt 1933 double eagles on CoinWeek:

  1. Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The Fate of 10 Switt-Langbord 1933 Double Eagles
  2. Langbord-Switt 1933 Double Eagles to Remain in Government Hands
  3. Federal Judge Upholds Verdict: Switt-Langbord 1933 Double Eagles remain “Property of the Government”
  4. Government’s Case to Confiscate Langbord-Switt 1933 Double Eagles Crumbles
  5. Third Circuit Asked to Rehear Case Involving Langbord 1933 Double Eagles
  6. Court Rehears Case Involving Langbord 1933 Double Eagles


Hubert Walker
Hubert Walker
Hubert Walker has served as the Assistant Editor of CoinWeek.com since 2015. Along with co-author Charles Morgan, he has written for CoinWeek since 2012, as well as the monthly column "Market Whimsy" for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing.

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