A 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card is apparently going back to its owner after a strange court case involving men representing two grading companies.
A kid who opened a pack of 1952 Topps baseball cards could never have imagined his Mickey Mantle card would potentially be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, let alone be the subject of legal wrangling.
It’s happened, though, and the case itself seems destined to end not long after it began, despite two widely different versions of what led to it landing in a New Jersey courtroom.
James Haas, a New Jersey resident, filed a civil lawsuit against Sportscard Guaranty (SGC) after he claimed the company wouldn’t return a 1952 Topps Mantle he had given them several months earlier.
The two parties appeared at a hearing Thursday in a Morris County, New Jersey civil court, with SGC agreeing to have the card reevaluated by a third party before it is returned to Haas within a month.
According to the civil complaint, Haas, a shareholder in Global Authentication Incorporated, had originally submitted the card to GAI where it was graded a "10" in 2006. After seeing a PSA 9 Mantle sell for over $282,000 in Memory Lane’s December 2006 auction, the civil complaint indicates Haas contacted SGC owner Dave Forman.
The complaint states Haas was hoping SGC could "correct two slight imperfections so its value could be enhanced." The card, according to Haas attorney Brian Spector, had "two small spots" and according to the complaint, SGC was hired to see if it could "legitimately correct the imperfections". Working through GAI employee Mike Baker, Haas turned the card over to SGC during the Eastern Pennsylvania Collectors Club show in the spring of 2007.
The complaint further alleges Forman kept the card throughout the second half of 2007, while meeting three times with Haas in West Orange New Jersey to discuss the status of the card. The card was eventually graded and slabbed in what the complaint states was an "SGC 9" (96) holder but remained in SGC’s possession as the company "made one last try" to "legitimately correct the imperfections." There is no mention of what, if anything, Haas alleges was done to the card while in SGC’s possession. An invoice obtained by Sports Collectors Daily includes the words "for D Forman Review" but no other information about other assigned tasks is printed on the form.
After an internet message board post suggested a 1952 Mantle card was being held as collateral for a loan given to "a majority shareholder in Global and a high profile Mickey Mantle card collector", and no longer able to contact Forman, Haas became concerned that the card involved was his and contacted the Parsippany Police Department.
SGC Vice President of Operations Sean Skeffington told Sports Collectors Daily he was not aware of any loan made to GAI.
On November 28 of last year, Haas and patrolman Richard Howell attempted to retrieve the card at SGC’s offices but after waiting 40 minutes, were rebuffed and advised to contact SGC’s legal counsel.
In court Thursday, SGC attorney Gordon Graber told Judge B. Theodore Bozonelis that comments appearing on internet message boards accusing SGC of intending to alter the card "are considered defamatory by the company."
Skeffington denied late Friday that SGC agreed to alter the card.
"SGC has never in the past or in the future ever agreed to restore cards for
anyone or any circumstance," he wrote in an e-mail. "I would agree that there factual errors in the complaint."
"The issue with this card was the submitter was convinced that the card was in better condition than it actually was. Keep in mind we downgraded the card from a 10 to a 9. The difference in value between a 9 and a 10 is vast."
SGC had requested a waiver from Haas in writing before returning the card because of the high dollar value. "We wanted to be certain both parties agreed that the reason the card was downgraded was due to the card not meeting our standards of a 98 or 10 and not caused by any damage on our part."
SGC’s official response, posted by Skeffington on the company’s web site, denies that any agreement took place regarding attempts to alter the card in any way:
"At some point in 2007, Jim Haas submitted a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card to SGC for grading. The card had been graded a "10 Pristine" by Global Authentication. At SGC’s request, a representative from Global removed the card from its holder so that it could be properly examined by SGC.
After reviewing the card, in accordance with its normal standards, SGC awarded the card the grade of "96 – Mint 9", due to two minor imperfections on the surface. Mr. Haas asked SGC to review the card a second time. After reviewing the card a second time, it was determined once again to be a "96 – Mint 9."
At no point did any representative of SGC perform – or agree to perform – any "restoration" on the card to improve its condition. SGC does not restore cards. SGC is a grading company, and its role is simply to assess the condition of trading cards. Mr. Haas seemed unhappy with the result.
When Mr. Haas requested return of the card, on the advice of counsel Mr. Forman requested a release protecting Mr. Forman from any allegation that SGC damaged the card, diminishing its value. Mr. Haas was provided with the identity of SGC’s legal counsel. Until this week, SGC’s counsel never received a call from either Mr. Haas or Mr. Haas’ attorney. While waiting for Mr. Haas to contact SGC’s counsel, the card remained safely in SGC’s custody. Today, the parties entered into a consent order transferring the card to a third party for inspection prior to its return to Mr. Haas.
We feel that it is important to note that a number of inaccuracies about how this story has been reported – largely due to unfamiliarity with our industry – have cast SGC in a negative light. Hopefully this statement will explain that SGC is a "grading and authentication" company and not a "rating and restoration" company, and that our business remains to assess the authenticity and condition of trading cards. We categorically deny any allegation that SGC or Dave Forman agreed to restore the card for Mr. Haas, and hope that this episode can now be put to rest so that we may continue on our mission to remain the highest quality grading company in our industry."
Attorneys for both sides have not returned phone calls since Thursday’s hearing.