Mountain States Legal Foundation Logo

Archived Cases

Archived: All Cases

In re Custer Battlefield Museum & Store, Inc.

Legal Question:

Whether the burden of proof rests on the United States to justify its retention of personal property it seized after the conclusion of its criminal investigation?

Plaintiff:

United States of America

Defendant:

Custer Battlefield Museum and Store

Court:

U.S. District Court for the District of Montana

An evidentiary hearing on February 25, 2014.

In 2005 and 2008, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), through the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Law Enforcement and Security, used two dozen federal agents with guns drawn to execute search warrants at the Custer Battlefield Museum, which is on private property owned by Christopher Kortlander, Executive Director of the Museum, near the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn in southern Montana, by surrounding the property, holding employees at gunpoint, and seizing hundreds of items on permanent display at the Museum.

In early August 2009, the U.S. Attorney wrote that, while it would “not be seeking prosecution in this case,” it would be “reviewing [the seized] items [to determine] whether they can be legally possessed by [Mr. Kortlander].”  Twenty artifacts, which include a war bonnet, headdress, medicine bundle, and shield—all of which contain golden or bald eagle feathers—have not been returned allegedly because their possession is illegal under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. 

In April 2013, MSLF entered an appearance on behalf of the Museum.  On June 21, 2013, MSLF and the United States filed cross-motions for summary judgment.  Briefing of the motions was completed on August 16, 2013. On October 24, 2013, the district court denied the United States’ motion for summary judgment and granted MSLF’s motion for summary judgment holding that the United States bears the burden of proving that the seized property is derivative contraband. 

  • Montana Museum Wins Favorable Ruling On Seized Property

    Oct 24, 2013
    A Montana man who has battled the federal government and its lawyers for years and is now represented by a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation known as a defender of Americans’ right to own and use property today won a ruling from a Montana federal district court that the federal government has the burden of proving it may retain property taken from him.
  • Montana Museum Replies to Federal Government: Return Property

    Aug 16, 2013
    A Montana man who has battled the federal government and its lawyers for years and is now represented by a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation known as a defender of Americans’ right to own and use property today replied to arguments by federal lawyers in his efforts to obtain return of property taken from him.
  • Montana Museum Reiterates Demand for Return of Its Property

    Jul 26, 2013
    A Montana man who has battled the federal government and its lawyers for years and is now represented by a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation known as a defender of Americans’ right to own and use property today filed an additional document seeking the return of property taken from him.
  • Montana Museum Demands Return of Its Property

    Jun 21, 2013
    A Montana man who has battled the federal government and its lawyers for years and is now represented by a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation known as a defender of Americans’ right to own and use property today demanded the return of property taken from him.
  • Western Legal Foundation Enters Montana Museum Case

    Mar 22, 2013
    A Montana man who has battled the federal government and its lawyers for years today drew the support of a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation known as a defender of Americans’ right to own and use property.


Help protect constitutional liberties and private property rights, and promote limited and ethical government and the free enterprise system:

Donate Here