Langbord v. U.S. Dep't of the Treasury, CIVIL ACTION No. 06-5315

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
Writing for the CourtLegrome D. Davis
PartiesROY LANGBORD, et al., Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, et al., Defendants. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Third-Party Plaintiff, v. TEN 1933 DOUBLE EAGLE GOLD PIECES, Third-Party Defendant-in-rem.
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION No. 06-5315
Decision Date05 July 2011

ROY LANGBORD, et al., Plaintiffs,

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Third-Party Plaintiff,
TEN 1933 DOUBLE EAGLE GOLD PIECES, Third-Party Defendant-in-rem.

CIVIL ACTION No. 06-5315


July 5, 2011

Legrome D. Davis, J.



In that the Court writes for the parties, who are well aware of the basic facts underlying the dispute, it need not again set out the full tale here, but rather incorporates the factual background found in previously issued memorandum opinions. (See Docs. No. 96, 108 & 131.) Suffice it to recount only this: In July 2009, the Court ordered that the Government initiate forfeiture proceedings against ten 1933 Double Eagles (the "Double Eagles," "Coins," or "Gold Pieces") that the Langbords had turned over to the Government so that they could be authenticated. (Doc. No. 108.) Two months later the United States sought leave to file a multi-count complaint (Doc. No. 111), which included the court-ordered forfeiture count against

Page 2

the Double Eagles.1 Forfeiture is warranted, the Government argues, because the Double Eagles were embezzled or stolen from the United States Mint, and wrongfully retained by someone with knowledge that they were embezzled or stolen. See 18 U.S.C. § 641. On the eve of the forfeiture trial, the United States and Langbords challenge the admissibility of various evidence offered by the other side. This opinions resolves those evidentiary disputes to the extent they can be resolved prior to trial.


To better explain its evidentiary rulings and provide further guidance to the parties, the Court sets forth here the law and analysis underlying its decisions. The Opinion proceeds in logical steps: We first discuss the threshold question of authenticity, an area of some concern given the age and state of many proposed exhibits. It then moves on to determine which of the proposed exhibits are relevant, and weighs the probative value of the relevant documents against their potential prejudicial effect. Next, the Opinion tackles the hearsay questions raised by the parties, followed by a brief discussion of expert testimony. Finally, although the Court does not resolve the majority of jury-instruction issues in this Opinion, it does explain its ruling on the Langbords' motion for instructions related to the unconstitutional seizure of the Coins by the United States.

A. Authenticity

Federal Rule of Evidence 901 makes the "authentication or identification [a proposed

Page 3

exhibit] . . . a condition precedent to admissibility" and deems the requirement "satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims." Fed. R. Evid. 901(a). Importantly, the proponent need not conclusively prove that a piece of evidence is authentic; "[a]ll that is required is a foundation from which the fact-finder could legitimately infer that the evidence is what the proponent claims it to be." McQueeney v. Wilmington Trust Co., 779 F.2d 916, 928 (3d Cir. 1985) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, though authenticity is a condition precedent to admissibility, "[t]he burden of proof for authentication is slight." Id.

1. Ancient Documents

The majority of events giving rise to the United States's forfeiture claim occurred between 1933 and 1947. As such, the United States urges the Court to deem the large majority of its documentary evidence authentic under the Federal Rule of Evidence 901(b)(8), commonly known as the ancient document rule. The rule provides that a proponent meets its slight burden of proof so long as a document "(A) is in such condition as to create no suspicion concerning its authenticity, (B) was in a place where it, if authentic, would likely be, and (C) has been in existence 20 years or more at the time it is offered." Fed. R. Evid. 901(b)(8).

Under this rule, the United States seeks to introduce certified copies of documents it obtained from the United States Mint, the National Archives and Records Administration ("National Archives"), the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the American Numismatic Society Library, Connecticut State Library, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the United States Department of the Treasury Library. (See Doc. 148.) The Langbords do not challenge the documents' age or that they were recovered from places where authentic documents would likely

Page 4

be. Rather, the Langbords contend that, with respect to many of the documents, the United States has not met its threshold burden of establishing that the documents' condition casts no suspicion on their authenticity.

The primary basis for the Langbords' objection is that the documents are neither signed by their authors nor, if letters, paired with signed letters to indicate they were ever sent or received. These fact, they contend, renders each of the unsigned documents too suspicious to qualify as prima facie authentic on its own, and must be accompanied by some extrinsic evidence in order to be deemed authentic as an ancient document.

The Court agrees that the available Third Circuit precedent suggests that importance of extrinsic evidence under certain circumstances, but finds sufficient evidence in the Government's proposed exhibits to conclude that the majority of the unsigned documents meet the authenticity threshold. Unlike more typical ancient documents, these documents, though unsigned, have been kept in the custody of the federal government, the State of Connecticut, or the American Numismatic Society library. The Langbords have cast no doubt on the ability of these institutions to keep records; nor have they "put forward so much as a hint that these documents have been tampered with in any way."2 Parsons v. Celotex Corporation, C.A. No. CV 478-319, slip op. at 3 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 27, 1980) (quoted approvingly in Threadgill, 928 F.2d at 1376). Although a lone unsigned letter found by a layperson in a decedent's desk drawer might require

Page 5

some further extrinsic proof of authenticity, documents stored by governmental agencies with other documents of the same kind, discussing the same subject matter, and lacking any hint of suspicion qualify as prima facie authentic.

The Langbords' argument that many ancient documents in this case were prepared in anticipation of related criminal and civil forfeiture proceedings does not require a different conclusion.3 While some courts have expressed that the ancient document rule makes sense because "such evidence is less likely to be affected by the forces generated by the litigation since they are made in a context where there is less reason to fear a lack of candor, distortion, whether conscious or unconscious, or even deliberate falsehood affected the statements made," Compton v. Davis Oil Co., 607 F. Supp. 1221, 1229 (D. Wyo. 1985), a broad policy underlying the rule need not apply to every document that meets the rule's delineated criteria. "Although the rule requires that the document be free of suspicion, that suspicion does not go to the content of the document but rather to whether the document is what it purports to be . . . ." United States v. Kairys, 782 F.2d 1374, 1379 (7th Cir. 1986) (cited approvingly in Threadgill, 928 F.2d at 1376). Whether the document's contents are trustworthy, accurate, or complete does not bear upon authenticity, but "upon the weight to be accorded the evidence." Kairys, 782 F.2d at 1379. Requiring courts to ignore the ancient document rule's three requirements and make determinations based on whether a document was prepared with similar litigation in mind would require courts to assess a document's trustworthiness or bias, a task inappropriate when resolving

Page 6

threshold authenticity questions.

But though the majority of the documents meet all three requirements of the ancient document rule, a hint of uncertainty does appear in a few of the Government's proposed exhibits. Perhaps because of the documents' age, many of the records seem to have been "copied" manually. The Langbords complain especially of two manually transcribed potential copies of a 1933 telegram (United States's Proposed Exhs. 134 & 266) and an alleged copy of a statement that the Government attributes to Israel Switt, but which does not bear his signature (United States's Proposed Ex. 239). In addition, the many unsigned documents bearing the word "COPY" or marked as signed either with type-written letters or a stamped image bear similar indicia of uncertainty.4 As the Third Circuit has explained, "the point of a Rule 901(b)(8) inquiry is to determine whether the documents in question are, in fact, what they appear to be." Threadgill v. Armstrong World Industries, Inc., 928 F.2d 1366, 1376 (3d Cir. 1991). Thus, when an indication that the document has been recreated manually appears on the face of the document, the Langbords challenge that the United States has not put forth any evidence to establish that these documents are what the Government asserts they appear to be: accurate reproductions of missing originals.

In order to attribute the contents of these unsigned manual copies to their supposed authors—e.g., demonstrate that a manually reproduced document should be treated as if it were

Page 7

the 1933 telegram itself—the Government must establish that the copies are accurate reproductions of originals. In all but a few instances (where, for example, a...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT