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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Maryland District Court Rejects ACCG's Attempt to Relitigate Matters Already Decided in Ancient Coins Case

The United States District Court for the District of Maryland has said no to the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild’s (ACCG) request to challenge issues previously argued in the case of Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Judge Catherine Blake, writing a June 3 memorandum opinion in the matter of U.S. v. Three Knife-Shaped Coins Et al., rejected the ACCG’s plea to relitigate a challenge to the validity of import regulations authorized by the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). Her decision also halts a repeat of arguments concerning the decision made by U.S. authorities to enact import protections covering ancient Chinese and Cypriot coin artifacts in jeopardy of pillage, saying this matter had already been addressed.

In fact, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decided in 2012 that the federal government properly identified Chinese and Cypriot coins subject to U.S. import restrictions under the CPIA and that the detention of the coins by customs officials was proper. The appeals court pointed out that, under these circumstances, the burden shifted to the ACCG to prove that the import of the coins was lawful.

Judge Blake’s two page opinion declared that “it is abundantly clear that the claimant, Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (“the Guild”) seeks to expand the scope of this [federal district court] forfeiture action well beyond the limits set by the Fourth Circuit …. The Fourth Circuit’s opinion forecloses any further challenge to the validity of the regulations.” The judge added:
As the government notes in its motion to strike the initial answer, much of the [ACCG’s] answer and most if not all of the affirmative defenses seek to relitigate issues concerning the validity of the regulations and the government’s decision to impose import restrictions on certain Cypriot and Chinese coins. For example, in its Surreply opposing the motion to strike, the Guild suggests that the government will be required to establish that the coins were “first discovered within” and  “subject to the export control” of either Cyprus or China. (Surreply, ECF No. 18, at 1-2.) The Guild is not correct. This argument also is foreclosed by the Fourth Circuit’s opinion. Ancient Coin Collectors, 698 F.3d at 181-82.
The ACCG has responded by filing a motion to reconsider. In court papers filed this week, the Guild has contended that the “first discovered” argument is central to due process and must be litigated:
Due process afforded under the U.S. Constitution, the governing statute, and general principles of forfeiture law, all place the burden on the government to establish a factual basis for its contention that the coins at issue were “first  discovered within” and “subject to the export control” of either Cyprus or China.
The ACCG’s “first discovered” claim maintains that the U.S. State Department and CBP acted outside their authority by placing CPIA import restrictions on coins of certain types without initially showing that they were "first discovered" within their countries of origin. The Fourth Circuit has already struck down this claim, saying “We are not persuaded,” explaining that "State and CBP are under no obligation to list restricted items with more specificity than the [CPIA] statute commands, and they are certainly not required to impose restrictions on a coin-by-coin basis. Such a requirement would make the statutory scheme utterly unworkable in practice.”

The battle of U.S. v. Three Knife-Shaped Coins traces its roots to 2009 when the Guild transported ancient coins from London to Baltimore to start a test case. The ACCG declared to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that the coins were from China and Cyprus but failed to offer information about any known provenance. CBP took custody of the coins, and the Guild started litigation to challenge the validity of the CPIA’s cultural heritage import protections. After the ACCG lost, the U.S. Attorney in Maryland filed a forfeiture complaint in May 2013 to retain the coins. The ACCG filed a response soon thereafter.

The Maryland federal court is expected to rule on the ACCG’s motion to reconsider once a reply is offered by the government. The court will also set a discovery schedule as the case proceeds to trial.

Meanwhile, the ancient coin lobby has raised the possibility of a "coin looter's exemption" being proposed by Congress while the present district court action continues. Such an exemption to the CPIA could potentially affect the current litigation. The Lawyer's Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation and the Archaeological Institute of America have issued calls to action in response.

A copy of the court's decision and the ACCG's motion to reconsider may be found on the Guild's web page here.

By Rick St. Hilaire Text copyrighted 2010-2014 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT INFORMATION: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com