New Hampshire-based auction house RR Auction filed a lawsuit in Federal Court on Tuesday, June 2, against Michael Johnson, owner of rrauctionlawsuit.com. The complaint charges 15 counts, including business defamation, abusive litigation practices, false light invasion of privacy, interference with contractual relationships, misappropriation of RR Auction’s marks and trade name, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and cybersquatting.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire. Johnson resides in Bakersfield, Calif. RR Auction also has an office in Boston, Mass. The Boston Globe reported the suit on June 3: “Cybersquatting law could be tested in N.H. court case”
Johnson filed a lawsuit in California against RR Auction in 2012, claiming that RR Auction sold him forgeries and refused to honor their guarantee of authenticity. RR Auction claims that even though they believe that the autographs are genuine, they tried to refund Johnson’s money, but he would not return the autographs to them. They claim that Johnson is the first customer to file a lawsuit against them for failing to honor their guarantee in the company’s 39-year history.
RR Auction claims that Johnson registered rrauctionlawsuit.com in 2013, a domain that misappropriated RR Auction’s trade name, and began populating it with misinformation to harm their business in order to force them to settle his lawsuit against them. They say that by registering at least 13 domain names using RR Auction or the personal names of RR employees or owners in the title, Johnson has tried, and been successful, in coopting the attention of clients or potential clients. They claim he referred to his lawsuit as a class action lawsuit, but that despite soliciting 400 RR clients in California to join him in a class action, no one did and the California court wouldn’t certify a class.
Mr. Johnson also posted a scathing document online that he refers to as an “affidavit,” which he claims was written by a former employee, Karen “Kay” Burris. According to court documents, Burris was terminated in 2008 after it was discovered she embezzled what turned out to be $455,000 from RR Auction. Burris committed suicide shortly after RR Auction went to law enforcement with their discovery. The court in California excluded the document, referring to it as “hearsay,” “lack[ing] foundation,” and observing that “the content of it remains speculation.”
Preliminarily, RR Auction says that they will ask the Court shut down Mr. Johnson’s Internet domains that incorporate RR Auction’s mark and trade name and intentionally divert clients and potential clients to “this misinformation.”
Representatives at RR Auction”s law firm, Burns & Levinson LLP, released this statement:
“Rather than post websites riddled with salacious and outrageous accusations, we will let our court filings do the talking. The law and facts are, we believe, firmly in our favor, and we are hopeful that the Court and any jury that may review this case will agree.
“When a dissatisfied former customer takes it upon himself to turn litigation into a platform to escalate a personal dispute beyond reasonable limits, highly respected companies like RR Auction are not obligated to sit back and take body blows indefinitely. Too many people”s jobs, too many collectors” faith in the memorabilia industry, and the integrity of the judicial system are at stake. We look forward to assisting RR Auction in this litigation.”
“We have built this company for almost 40 years with a guarantee, like no other auction house in this industry and we have ALWAYS honored that guarantee,” states RR Auction president Robert Eaton. “We hope that RR Auction’s customers, after months of hearing Mr. Johnson’s account, will pay equal attention to this litigation, and decide for themselves who they can believe: RR Auction, a trusted name in memorabilia auctions, or one man who has litigated three years over a handful of items totaling a few thousand dollars in value – items for which he was offered a full refund but refused.”
Johnson was served with the lawsuit June 3. Autograph will be covering this story on an ongoing basis as Johnson or his attorneys release their statements or file their responses.