ACCG Files Appellate Brief in Baltimore Coin Case

Monday, October 31, 2011
Ancient Chinese Coins
Author mc559, Creative Commons
The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) today filed an appellate brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. After setting up and losing a test case in the Maryland federal district court, the ACCG is now asking the appeals court to reverse that decision. The ACCG’s case began when it imported 23 Chinese and Cypriot ancient coins from a London dealer in 2009. The coins were brought to Baltimore in contravention of import protections enacted pursuant to the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA).

The ACCG argues in its brief that the district court should have reviewed the decisions of the State Department and/or Customs and Border Protection to implement import protections under the Administrative Procedures Act. The APA is a seminal statute that describes how federal agencies shall establish administrative regulations and that outlines the procedures by which administrative decisions are reviewed by the courts. The ACCG argues that the decision of the Assistant Secretary [of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs] and/or US Customs and Border Protection approving import rules may be reviewed by a court under the Administrative Procedures Act. The lower court essentially argued that the President of the United States conducts foreign policy and that “primary responsibility for imposing cultural property import restrictions [rests] with the President, rather than with an agency.” It follows then that the APA cannot therefore be used to review an executive branch decision that is part of the President’s power to negotiate international agreements rather than part of an administrative decision of an agency. The lower court explained in its decision that “the State Department and Assistant Secretary were acting on behalf of the President, and therefore their actions are not reviewable under the APA. That conclusion is particularly justified here, because the Department and Assistant Secretary were acting in the realm of foreign affairs.”

The ACCG further argues that the district court erred when ruling that the government could issue cultural property import protections on coins without China purportedly requesting the import regulations. The appellate brief states that “[t]he District Court’s conclusion that ‘the CPIA does not require that a state party’s initial request include a detailed accounting of each item eventually covered by an [1970 UNESCO Convention] Article 9 agreement’ ignores the requirement that any request ‘must be accompanied by a written statement of the facts known to the State Party that relates to those matters with respect to which determinations must be made. . . .’” The lower court, in contrast, ruled that China’s request complied with the law, observing that “the CPIA [does not] require that the State Department publish verbatim the list of items requested to be restricted. Rather, it simply requires that a State Party make a ‘request . . . to the United States under article 9 of the [1970 UNESCO] Convention,’ . . . and ‘publish notification of the request . . . in the Federal Register.’ The notice published in the September 3, 2004, Federal Register demonstrates that such a request was made.”

Finally, the ACCG argues that the import regulations require federal authorities to prove that a particular coin was discovered in the modern nations of China or Cyprus before officials may seize the coins as contraband. The ACCG states in its appellate brief that “the CPIA itself only authorizes seizure and forfeiture of artifacts ‘first discovered within, and . . . subject to export control by’ the State Party seeking restrictions.” The brief adds that “[t]he Guild argued below that the Government could comply with this critical statutory requirement in either one of two ways: (1) establishing by undisputed scholarly evidence that the coins placed on the designated lists could only have been discovered in Cyprus or China and, hence must be subject to their export controls; or (2) demonstrating by documentary evidence that the coins that CBP seized were in fact first discovered in Cyprus or China and are subject to export control by those countries.”

This argument was originally rejected by the federal district court. The lower court opinion remarked that “the dispute is limited to whether the State Department has authority under the CPIA to prohibit the importation of coins with unknown ‘find spots’ . . . .” The district court judge found that “ACCG’s argument misses the mark, for three principal reasons. First, the subsection imposing the “first discovered” requirement . . . is silent on how the government must establish, in the absence of a documented find spot, whether a particular object ‘was first discovered within, and is subject to export control by, the State Party.’ Moreover, the CPIA anticipates that there may be some archaeological objects without precisely documented provenance and export records and prohibits the importation of those objects. . . . Thus for objects without documentation of where and when they were discovered, the CPIA expressly places the burden on importers to prove that they are importable, and prohibits the importation of those objects if they cannot meet that burden. Second, the CPIA anticipates that some categories of materials will be designated ‘by type or other appropriate classification.’ Congress apparently recognized that sometimes neither the requesting country nor the U.S. government will have enough information to list particular items with greater specificity than its “type.” . . . Third, interpreting the “first discovered in” requirement to preclude the State Department from barring the importation of archaeological objects with unknown find spots would undermine the core purpose of the CPIA, namely to deter looting of cultural property. . . . Looted objects are, presumably, extremely unlikely to carry documentation, or at least accurate documentation, of when and where they were discovered and when they were exported from the country in which they were discovered. Congress is therefore unlikely to have intended to limit import restrictions to objects with a documented find spot.” (Citations omitted).

A link to the brief appears courtesy of Peter Tompa, legal counsel for the ACCG: http://www.accg.us/News/Item/ACCG_Appellant_Brief_filed_in_Cyprus_China_coin_seizure.aspx.

[UPDATE 1/18/12:  Federal attorneys have filed their appellate brief.]
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