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Lawrence v. United States Department of The Treasury

United States District Court, S.D. California

March 26, 2015

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.

ORDER

WILLIAM Q. HAYES, District Judge.

The matter before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint, filed by Defendants United States Department of the Treasury, United States Bureau of the Mint, and the United States of America. (ECF No. 19).

I. Background

On March 14, 2014, Plaintiffs Randall Lawrence and Michael McConnell initiated this action by filing a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs are the legal owners of a unique United States coin, a 1974-D Aluminum Cent, and that "the Government's legal claim to Plaintiffs' aluminum cent is invalid." Id. at 18. On June 3, 2014, Defendants United States Department of the Treasury, United States Bureau of the Mint, and the United States of America filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint. (ECF No. 3). On July 23, 2014, this Court granted Defendants' motion on the grounds that the Complaint failed to allege sufficient facts to support the legal conclusion that Plaintiffs are the "owners" of the Aluminum Cent, with a "legal right to have their coin sold at public auction, " and that "the Government's claim to Plaintiffs' Aluminum Cent is invalid." (ECF No. 10 at 5).

On December 12, 2014, Plaintiffs filed the First Amended Complaint ("FAC"). (ECF No. 17). On December 24, 2014, Defendants filed the Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 19). On January 19, 2015, Plaintiffs filed an opposition. (ECF No. 20). On January 26, 2015, Defendants filed a reply. (ECF No. 21).

II. Allegations of the FAC

Plaintiffs are "the owners of a unique United States coin, a 1974-D Aluminum Cent." (ECF No. 17 at 1). Over one million 1974 aluminum cents were struck by the U.S. Mint in 1973 and 1974. At least dozens of these coins were handed out by the United States Mint to various members and staff of the House and Senate Banking Committees in 1974 while attempting to persuade Congress to replace copper pennies with aluminum cents. 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 aluminum cents without a specific order to do so." Id. ¶ 39.

Congress ultimately decided not to adopt aluminum cents. 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. "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.

Plaintiff LAWRENCE is the son of the late Harry Edmond Lawrence, who served with distinction for approximately 20 years in the Denver Mint facility, predominantly in the assistant superintendent's position, retiring as assistant superintendent in 1980. 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....
The Denver Mint commemorated Harry Lawrence's impending retirement in 1979 by (a) giving him a clock engraved with his name and dates of service and with the "hours" represented by specimens of each of the last 90%-silver coins minted in Denver in 1964, and (b) allowing him to keep certain error coins struck in Denver which he had accumulated, and one specimen of the 1974-D aluminum cent.
Harry Lawrence died in 1980, and Plaintiff LAWRENCE obtained the clock, the error coins, and the 1974-D aluminum cent that is the subject of this action along with his father's other personal property. In 2013, LAWRENCE conveyed an interest in the 1974-D aluminum cent to Plaintiff McCONNELL.

Id. ¶¶ 34-36.

On February 26, 2014, the Chief Counsel for the U.S. Mint sent Plaintiffs a letter demanding the return of any aluminum cent in Plaintiff's possession or control.[1] The letter stated that any aluminum cent remains property of the federal government because Congress never issued an aluminum cent as legal tender. A ...


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