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Bramlett v. United States Department of Treasury

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 20, 2017

KENT BRAMLETT, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, UNITED STATES BUREAU OF THE MINT, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, UNITED STATES BUREAU OF CUSTOMS AND B PROTECTION SERVICE, STEVEN MNUCHIN, DAVID MOTL, JOHN F. KELLY, KEVIN K. MCALEENAN, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants. PORTLAND MINT and RONNIE SHAHAR, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, UNITED STATES BUREAU OF THE MINT, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, UNITED STATES BUREAU OF CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION SERVICE, STEVEN MNUCHIN, DAVID MOTL, JOHN F. KELLY, KEVIN K. MCALEENAN, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WENDY BEETLESTONE, J.

         Plaintiffs Kent Bramlett, the Portland Mint, and Ronnie Shahar have brought claims alleging that they were improperly prevented from submitting several shipments of bent and broken coins to the U.S. Mint's Mutilated Coin Redemption Program prior to the Mint's suspension of the entire program in late 2015.[1] Plaintiffs assert that the Mint refused to accept two shipments of coins, and that another four coin shipments were unlawfully detained by customs officials for several months, thereby preventing Plaintiffs from submitting those coins before the Coin Redemption Program was suspended. In pursuit of either an order requiring the Mint to accept their coins or an award of damages to compensate them for the lost opportunity to submit the coins, Plaintiffs have filed suit under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.; the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and the Mandamus and Venue Act, 28 U.S.C. 1361, against the United States, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Mint, the U.S. Bureau of Border and Customs Protection Service, the leaders of all four agencies, and the unnamed officers who caused the detention of the coins. Defendants have filed motions to dismiss all of Plaintiffs' claims. Defendants' motions shall be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Mutilated Coin Redemption Program

         For over 100 years, the United States Mint (the “Mint”) has maintained a Mutilated Coin Redemption Program (the “Coin Redemption Program”) by which broken or bent U.S. coins may be submitted to the Mint in exchange for payment. From 1999 until the program's suspension in November 2015, the Mint accepted broken and bent coins for redemption based on weight and denomination. See 31 C.F.R. § 100.11. The Coin Redemption Program is funded by the United States Mint Public Enterprise Fund (“PEF”), which is fueled by receipts from Mint operations and any borrowing which the Secretary of the Treasury deems necessary to operate the Mint. See 31 U.S.C. § 5136.

         In light of concerns about the submission of counterfeit coins, the Mint temporarily suspended the Coin Redemption Program in November 2015. One year later, the Mint issued a Notice requesting comment on the development of new regulations to govern the program with additional anti-counterfeiting safeguards. The Notice indicated that the program will be resumed once the new regulations are established, which has not yet occurred.

         B. Plaintiffs' Rejected and Detained Shipments

         Plaintiffs have been submitting mutilated coins gathered from sources in China and the United States to the Coin Redemption Program since 2009. Until late 2014, each submission proceeded smoothly, with Plaintiffs submitting broken and bent coins to either the Mint in Philadelphia or to a designated smelter in Iowa and receiving payment based on the weight and denomination of coins submitted. Beginning in late 2014, however, Plaintiffs began to incur difficulties with their submissions, and throughout 2015 several of their shipments of coins from China were detained upon arrival in the United States by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

         Bramlett was the first Plaintiff to face a barrier to mutilated coin redemption. In November 2014, he submitted a large shipment of coins to the Mint in Philadelphia. In early 2015, he was informed that the processing of his payment for that shipment had been delayed by the Department of Homeland Security pending “determination of the source of the coins.”

         While Bramlett's November 2014 shipment was awaiting redemption payment, Portland Mint attempted to arrange the submission of large shipments of coins that were imported on February 12, 2015 and March 13, 2015. Although Portland Mint had previously submitted several redemptions and had been invited to continue submitting coins, Plaintiffs allege that the Mint's communication regarding submission logistics became unclear and evasive in early 2015, ultimately preventing the submission of these early 2015 shipments.

         Despite their difficulties with submitting coins in late 2014 and early 2015, Plaintiffs continued to import mutilated coins with the intention of submitting them to the Mint. Beginning in April 2015, however, CBP began to detain Plaintiffs' shipments at the border. The first detention occurred when CBP held a shipment imported by Portland Mint in Seattle on April 19, 2015 “for further examination.” Two weeks later, Portland Mint's next shipment was also detained in Seattle, again with the designation “held for examination.” The following week, CBP officers in Los Angeles detained a shipment imported by Bramlett citing “possible admissibility issues (counterfeit coins).” Finally, a third shipment of Portland Mint's was detained, this time in Tacoma, again to be “held for further examination.” Portland Mint filed a protest of the detention of the May 1, 2015 shipment, which was denied on the grounds that the coins were “not deemed excluded; issue non-protestable. 19 U.S.C. § 1499 does not apply based on determination of admissibility being vested in an agency other than CBP.” When the Coin Redemption program was suspended in November 2015, all of the detained shipments remained in CBP custody.

         Plaintiffs' original Complaints sought payment for the November 2014 shipment (to Bramlett), the release of the detained shipments, and a resumption of the Coin Redemption Program. In September 2016, the parties reached an agreement whereby Bramlett was paid for the November 2014 shipment, and the shipments in CBP custody were released to Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs have been unable to submit those coins (or the February and March 2015 shipments) for redemption, however, due to the ongoing suspension of the Coin Redemption Program. They filed an Amended Complaint on October 31, 2016, seeking a resumption of the program or compensation for the missed opportunity to submit their coins.

         C. The Defendants and Claims

         Plaintiffs have named four groups of Defendants: (1) the United States; (2) the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Bureau of the Mint, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection Service (together, the “Agencies”); (3) the officials in charge of each of the Agencies - Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Acting Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Mint David Motl, Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly, and Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Kevin K. McAleenan - in their official capacities (together, the “Officials”);[2] and (4) John Does 1-10, unnamed persons sued in their individual capacities allegedly responsible for causing the investigation and detention of Plaintiffs' coin shipments.

         Plaintiffs' Amended Complaints contain five counts. Count I is a claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., challenging the suspension of the Coin Redemption Program and the refusal of Plaintiffs' submissions on both statutory and constitutional grounds. Counts II and III are constitutional claims under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, respectively, arising from CBP's detention of Plaintiffs' coins. Count IV is a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Officials and John Does 1-10, also arising from the detention of Plaintiffs' coins. Count V is a claim under the Mandamus and Venue Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1361, seeking a writ declaring that Plaintiffs' constitutional rights have been violated and awarding compensation for the damages caused by the detention of their coins and their subsequent inability to submit them for redemption. Except for Count IV, all of the claims are asserted against all Defendants.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Defendants' motions do not specify whether they were filed under Rule 12(b)(1) or Rule 12(b)(6), but the motions present arguments concerning both subject-matter jurisdiction and failure to state claims. In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, “a court must first determine whether the movant presents a facial or factual attack.” In re Schering Plough Corp. Intron/Temodar Consumer Class Action Litig., 678 F.3d 235, 243 (3d Cir. 2012). Defendants' Rule 12(b)(1) arguments concern subject-matter jurisdiction and rely solely on the allegations in the Amended Complaints. They are, thus, facial challenges, which are governed by the same standard of review as a motion under Rule 12(b)(6). Id. Accordingly, the motions will be analyzed based on the facts set forth in the Amended Complaints construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs. Santomenno ex rel. John Hancock Trust v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.), 768 F.3d 284, 290 (3d Cir. 2014) (in considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must construe the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “In light of Twombly, it is no longer sufficient to allege mere elements of a cause of action; instead a complaint must allege facts suggestive of the proscribed conduct.” Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 177 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). A plaintiff need not show that success on his or her claims is probable, but must assert “‘enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'” each necessary element in a claim. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (2007)). However, “‘[w]here a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). At bottom, the question is not whether the claimant “will ultimately prevail . . . but whether his complaint [is] sufficient to cross the federal court's threshold.” Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 529-30 (2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants argue that sovereign immunity, which bars suits against the United States and its agencies absent a waiver of that immunity, precludes all of Plaintiffs' claims against the United States, the Agencies, and the Officials. See F.D.I.C. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994). They also argue that the claims against John Does 1-10 have not been supported with sufficient factual allegations to survive a motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs respond that the APA provides for a ...


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