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Lawrence v. United States Dep't of Treasury

United States District Court, S.D. California

July 23, 2014

RANDALL LAWRENCE and MICHAEL McCONNELL, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY; UNITED STATES BUREAU OF THE MINT; and the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants

For Randall Lawrence, Michael McConnell, Plaintiffs: Armen R Vartian, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Armen R. Vartian, Manhattan Beach, CA.

For United States Department of the Treasury, United States Bureau of the Mint, United States of America, Defendants: U S Attorney CV, Joseph Patrick Price , JR, LEAD ATTORNEYS, U S Attorneys Office Southern District of California, Civil Division, San Diego, CA; Joseph J Purcell, LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Attorney's Office, San Diego, CA.

Page 1141

ORDER

WILLIAM Q. HAYES, United States District Judge.

The matter before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss the Complaint for Failure to State a Claim (" Motion to Dismiss" ), filed by Defendants United States Department of the Treasury, United States Bureau of the Mint, and the United States of America. (ECF No. 3).

I. Background

On March 14, 2014, Plaintiffs Randall Lawrence and Michael McConnell initiated this action by filing a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment (" Complaint" ) in this Court. (ECF No. 1).

A. Allegations of the Complaint

Plaintiffs are " the owners of a unique United States coin, a 1974-D Aluminum Cent." Id. at 1. Hundreds of thousands of 1974 Aluminum Cents were minted, and at least dozens of these coins were handed out by the United States Mint to U.S. Government officials while attempting to persuade Congress to proceed with their use to replace copper pennies in 1974. Congress ultimately decided to not adopt aluminum cents, and the U.S. Mint melted down most of the specimens that were still at the Philadelphia Mint facility, and collected a majority of those that had been distributed in Washington, D.C. to also be destroyed. The Government's records show that no one knows exactly how many aluminum cents were not recovered and are still in existence. " While it is rumored that only a dozen or so Aluminum Cents were minted at the Denver Mint, only Plaintiff's specimen is known to exist at this time." Id. ¶ 9. The coins struck in Denver were intermingled with those manufactured in Philadelphia once they reached Washington, and were distributed in a similar manner. Although the U.S. Mint has claimed that no records exist indicating that any Aluminum Cents were authorized to be struck at the U.S. Mint's Denver facility, " the Denver Mint could not have made the Aluminum Cents without a specific order to do so." Id. ¶ 38.

Plaintiff Lawrence is the son of the Harry Edmond Lawrence, " who served with distinction for approximately 20 years at the Denver Mint, predominantly in the assistant superintendent's position, retiring as assistant superintendent in 1980." Id. ¶ 34. " Harry Lawrence was seconded to Washington, D.C. during 1974, and on information and belief he participated in the various hearings and meetings with Congressmen, Senators and their staff relating to the 1974 Aluminum Cent." Id. " Harry Lawrence died in 1980, and Plaintiff Lawrence obtained the 1974-D aluminum cent that is the subject of this action along with his father's other personal property." Id. ¶ 35.

On February 26, 2014, the Chief Counsel for the U.S. Mint sent Plaintiffs a letter demanding the return of their aluminum cent. The letter stated that the Government takes the position that, because Congress never issued an aluminum cent as legal tender, any aluminum cent remains property of the federal government, regardless of how long it has been in private hands. A similar letter was sent to the auction house engaged by Plaintiffs to sell the coin.

" Under the Government's theory, it has the legal basis to commence forfeiture proceedings

Page 1142

against some of the most valued coins in the numismatic community, whether found in a public or private collection, or offered for sale." Id. ΒΆ 57. " Such a circumstance would be a disaster for numismatists and the public generally. Collectors who acquired patterns and other non-legal tender coins in good faith from dealers, auction houses or other collectors, or as inheritances from other collectors in their families would be forced to prove that they are entitled to retain their coins. In many cases, collectors would be unable to overcome the Government's presumption that their coins were removed ...


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