An appeals court has granted a motion filed by a former PSA/DNA employee who’s name was used on certificates of authenticity without his permission.
Collectors Universe, Inc. parent company of PSA and PSA/DNA revealed Thursday that the Appellate Court in the William Miller Case has issued an order for a rehearing of the court’s ruling last month. The Appellate Court had rejected Miller’s claim that he was entitled to statutory damages of approximately $10.5 million over the unauthorized use of his signature on thousands of certificates of authenticity.
In August 2004, Miller claimed Collectors Universe placed his name and signature on over 1,000 PSA/DNA COAs which indicated that he had examined items being authenticated. Miller said he had never seen the items and his original suit alleged violation of his right to privacy through the unauthorized use of his name. At the time, a Collectors Universe executive said the company "failed to adequately stop the flow" of the certificates after Miller said he no longer wanted his name on them.
Miller claimed 14,060 authentication certificates issued by Collectors Universe contained his facsimile signature. In November 2005, a jury in Superior Court of California found in Miller’s favor but the judge left the damages up to an appeals court. The Superior Court judge did award Miller $14,060 ($1 per signature), representing Collector’s Universe’s profits on the autographs. Miller appealed, believing he was entitled, under California law, to damages of $750 for each alleged use of his name by Collectors Universe without his consent, a claim totalling $10.5 million.
At the time Miller said, "For the rest of my life, I will live with the uncomfortable feeling that at any time I might be held responsible for someone who authenticated an autograph I never looked at. When an item turns out to be not genuine, as we have already found to be the case in a number of instances, it’s my name which will bear the responsibility and my reputation, carefully built over 15 years, which will be damaged."
However, the appeals court ruled that the use of his name constituted, at most, a single violation of the statute in question and, therefore, Miller is not entitled to multiply $750 by the number of times his name was used.
Miller’s petition for rehearing asserted that the Appellate Court based its August ruling on a legal theory not raised by the parties in the Appellate Court briefs, and that Miller, therefore, did not have the opportunity to fully present his views as to whether that theory should have been relied on by the Court in reaching its decision. In granting Miller’s petition for rehearing the Appellate Court stated that it was debatable whether or not the legal theory was "fairly encompassed within the parties’ briefs" submitted prior to its decision.
As a result, the Appellate Court stated that "[t]o assure fairness, and ‘[t]o afford the parties all benefit of the doubt’ . . . we invite the parties to submit supplemental briefs limited to argument . . ." concerning (i) whether the legal theory used by the Court to arrive at its earlier decision may be properly utilized in this particular case, and (ii) if not, what legal theory should be used to determine the damages that may be awarded to Miller." The supplemental briefs are due on October 31.
Collectors Universe continues to believe that it will not incur any material liability to Miller in this case. However, the company admitted that "due to the relatively novel legal issues involved, it is not possible to predict, with certainty, how the Appellate Court will ultimately rule."
Miller will not be allowed to seek damages based on the calculation of certificates multiplied by the $750 figure.
Meanwhile, one stock analyst says Collectors Universe might be a good investment now that its diamond grading business may not be losing money much longer.