Pa. man who sued U.S. Govt. for $15 billion for failure to return Federal Reserve bonds has complaint dismissed

Jon Campisi Mar. 26, 2012, 8:31am

A Chester County, Pa. man who filed suit against the U.S. government late last year seeking $15 billion in damages relating to his claims that a federal agent refused to return to him 15 $1 billion 1934 Federal Reserve Bonds that the plaintiff turned over to the government for authentication purposes has had his lawsuit dismissed by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin dismissed with prejudice the complaint that had been filed in federal court in Philadelphia on Dec. 22, 2011 by Joseph Riad.

In his complaint, Riad had claimed that he turned over the bonds to an agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who promised to determine the authenticity of the bonds and then return them to Riad.

Riad alleged that the agent, after determining that the bonds were not authentic, refused to return the property to the plaintiff, according to background information on the case contained in the judge’s order.

Riad subsequently filed suit, which contained counts of trespass to chattel, conversion and intentional misrepresentation under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

In addition to the $15 billion in damages, Riad sought a declaratory judgment that the bonds are authentic.

Background information in the case stated that Riad discovered the bonds in three bronze boxes with which he came into possession. He retained experts who suggested the probability that the bonds were authentic.

Riad was told he could “repatriate” the bonds for offering to the federal government for redemption at face value or obtaining a reward for returning them.

Riad initially contacted the United States Secret Service, which forwarded him to officials with the Bureau of the Public Debt, who subsequently informed Riad that neither of those two agencies had the authority to redeem the bonds.

At that point, Riad enlisted the help of his local congressmen and senators, court papers show. He was eventually told by a financial consultant he had retained that an ICE agent out of California could probably help in the authentication process.

The two met in March 2009, the record shows, and about a week later the agent contacted Riad to inform him the sample bonds were not authentic.

Riad requested the return of the bonds, but was informed by the agent that they had been destroyed, although Riad believes the agent still possessed them or turned them over to a third party.

Riad first filed an administrative claim with ICE and the U.S. Department of Justice in early June 2010 in an attempt to recover the bonds, but his claim was denied.

He then filed his lawsuit in December of last year.

The government argued that Riad’s suit should be dismissed because it was time-barred under the Federal Tort Claims Act; Riad didn’t file suit within six months of the date that he received notice that his administrative claim was being denied, government lawyers argued.

The judge agreed with the government.

“The Court concludes that the plaintiff’s failure to comply with the statute of limitations did not occur under the extraordinary circumstances that give rise to a right to equitable tolling,” McLaughlin wrote.

The deadline to file the suit, the judge wrote, would have been Oct. 1, 2011, and Riad never disputed that he filed the civil action after that date.

Riad argued that he was entitled to have the limitations period equitably tolled because his delay in filing suit was related to his pursuit of “alternative resolutions to his claims via the legislature,” the ruling states.

Riad argued that in March 2011, he retained a lobbying firm to contact federal legislators in an attempt to pass a private bill confirming the authenticity of his bonds and allocating a finder’s fee for Riad.

Riad further argued that because Congress did not begin its fall session until Oct. 4, 2011, he “reasonably waited for a response from the legislators into the fall, and therefore missed his filing deadline.”

The judge seemed unmoved by this argument.

“He [Riad] argues that these efforts, and the fact that the government was on notice of his claims since at least the time of his filing of an administrative claim, entitle him to equitable tolling,” McLaughlin wrote. “They do not.”

The courts have held that equitable tolling only exists in cases where plaintiffs have been prevented from filing in a timely manner due to “sufficiently inequitable circumstances,” including when the defendant has actively misled the plaintiff respecting the plaintiff’s cause of action, where the plaintiff in some extraordinary way has been prevented from asserting his or her rights, or where the plaintiff has timely asserted his or her rights mistakenly in the wrong forum.

None of those circumstances existed in Riad’s case, the judge wrote.

“The plaintiff appears to have made a conscious choice to pursue resolution of his claims through the legislature, and the government did not mislead him as to his cause of action or prevent him from asserting his rights,” McLaughlin wrote. “The plaintiff’s own decisions as to how to pursue his claims were the cause of his failure to file a timely complaint.”

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