A trial date was set on August 26 for the Michael Johnson v. RR Auction lawsuit, two weeks after an August 12 ruling denying Johnson’s fourth attempt to add allegations of illegal bidding practices. While Johnson’s lawyers claimed in their motion that they spent six months and $50,000 extensively investigating “shill bidding” allegations, they didn’t present any evidence to the court of such practices by RR.
Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Donna Geck also granted RR’s motion barring Johnson from conducting any further discovery related to “shill bidding,” including taking depositions.
The trial date is January 13, 2017, is almost five years from when Johnson filed the lawsuit in April 2012.
In the lawsuit, Johnson accuses RR Auction of selling him autographs that were not real and refusing to honor their refund guarantee. They claim that while they believe the autographs are real, they were willing to honor their guarantee, but Johnson refused to return the autographs to them for a refund.
“We offered him his money back when he first approached us with the original six items, even though we believed that his authenticator, PSA, had made a mistake,” said RR Auction vice president Robert Livingston. “We told him to send them back. He said he would send them back, but then didn’t. Now he’s claiming that he didn’t have to return the material to get a refund.”
Did RR Auction’s Guarantee Require Returning Autographs?
In a 2015 declaration, Johnson disputed that he didn’t comply with R&R’s money back guarantee:
“RR Auction’s “guarantee” between 2008 and 2012 did not state a buyer had to return an autographed item that was found to be a forgery to RR Auction before a refund is due. Nor did the RR guarantee between 2008 and 2012 require a buyer who purchased an autographed item from RR Auction that was later found to be a forgery to send the item(s) first to RR Auction before that buyer could get a refund. Instead, the RR Auction guarantee stated that RR Auction, “may ask the buyer to provide documentation” from the third party authenticator who deemed the autographed a forgery.”
In several emails and a different sworn declaration, Johnson acknowledged that he understood from RR Auction’s guarantee that he would have to return autographed items for the refund.
Attempt to Make Lawsuit Class-Action Unsuccessful
Johnson first amended his complaint in October 2012, attempting to make the the Lawsuit a California class action. On September 26, 2014 the Court granted Johnson leave to file a second amended complaint modifying the causes of auction in the class action. The attempt to certify the class action so it could proceed failed in March 2015 because no other RR Auction customers contacted were refused a refund. Johnson has continued the lawsuit on his own.
Wide Range of Damage Claims and Settlement Demands
As reported on this site in 2015, plaintiff Michael Johnson sued RR Auction over $84,000 worth of items he purchased from the autograph and memorabilia auction house that he claims turned out not to be authentic. However, that monetary amount has varied. In 2015, he put that figure at $130,000, even though a declaration from January of that year said he paid $8,008 plus a 20-percent commission.
The amount of damages Johnson has demanded over the course of the case has been far greater, from $1,250,000 to $5 million. The amount went up in incremental increases of $500,000 per week pursuant to a settlement demand sent from Johnson’s lawyers in February of 2015, after the class action certification motion had been filed, but before the court ruled on it.
Livingston has called Johnson a “serial litigator” in the past, and alleges that the lawsuit stems from a failed attempt on Johnson’s part to set up a rival memorabilia business site, Classic Rock Music Auction. According to Livingston, in 2005, Michael Johnson began purchasing memorabilia through them and occasionally selling through them.
The following year, Johnson began to set up his own auction website and identified items that would be offered for sale (including items that appear to have been purchased from R&R) but by 2011, it had not officially launched. (An Internet Archive search in 2011 only brings up a “Coming Soon” page.) Johnson then sued his webmaster and business partner, Ray Munson, for $50,000, filed the RR Auction lawsuit, and sued autograph dealer and authenticator Roger Epperson in quick succession.
“We know that he has sued members of his family on multiple occasions,” said Anita Jain, part of R&R’s legal team since May of this year. “He’s sued his former counsel who had represented him in this case…Litigation should be the last resort, but, for Mr. Johnson, it appears to be among the first.”
Johnson has insisted on being rewarded 10 times what he paid for the memorabilia in question, but also wanted to keep the memorabilia that he claims are inauthentic. A full list of the memorabilia is not present in Johnson’s complaint. When questioned by this reporter in 2015, Johnson’s lawyers sent a press release that only listed one item: an Eric Clapton-autographed copy of Derek and the Dominos’ Layla album—and no others.
According to Livingston another piece of signed memorabilia Johnson claims is forged is an acoustic guitar signed by both members of the Smother Brothers. But RR Auction sold it to Johnson with photos of the Smothers Brothers signing the exact guitar:
Now that the Michael Johnson v. RR Auction Lawsuit is finally heading to trial, Autograph will cover it and rulings on major pretrial motions closely.
Calls to Mr. Johnson’s lawyers, Christman Kelley & Clarke, asking for comment for this article were not returned.