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Texas lawsuit heats up

Texas litigation continues in state district court as the petition in O?Neill v 1st Capital Reserve was amended April 10 to include more plaintiffs, more defendants, and more claims seeking more damages.   There are now more than 40 plaintiffs and half again as many defendants.

Reports in the daily press made hay of the amendment, claiming a billion-dollar jury award lay in the future, but such pie-in-the-sky reports are typical bragging, and using the press to make a point that is legally difficult to prove. Generally, the measure of damages is what a party lost in value, which is more likely to be based on some proof surrounding the sales figures to the complaining purchasers and what they can prove their purchases were really worth.

To help hype the case, plaintiffs have a public relations firm sending out press releases so that the media is aware that procedural moves that lawyers know to be quite common give new life to the story. Amendment of court pleadings is common, especially in cases that have a complicated legal theory.

The first petition or complaint is 19 pages long; the second is 24 pages in length, and the common elements appear to be that several telemarketers are alleged to have targeted the elderly to buy coins, and, if the claims are to be believed, sold them a boatload of coins that are worth substantially less than the salesman claimed.

Nub of the theory is that the sellers were negligent, fraudulent or focused on making money in rare coins, right now, by overcharging the buyers, who evidently quite willingly bought what was offered to them. The complaint also says that the charge cards of the buyers were improperly utilized to purchase unauthorized items.

Legal proceedings involving rare coins from aggressive marketers, including telemarketers, generally have two themes. One is a complaint that the coins are overgraded; the second is that the coins are overpriced. Both of those claims are made in substance in the amended petition filed April 10 in Jefferson County, Texas.

From the second petition it appears that the lawyers representing the coin buyers are focused on damages, which can be tripled under the consumer law referenced in the complaint. They also seek punitive damages because of a claim that the actions are particularly outrageous.  

Successful claims in contract cases involving punitive or exemplary damages are few, and no published decision involving rare coin sales has been abrogated with a successful finding of exemplary damages. The field is now heavily regulated in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions reducing the availability of punitive as a deterrent.

Some even believe that the next large award of punitives, as opposed to general damages for lost profit, lost opportunity, or bad value, will bring a Supreme Court opinion eliminating the concept as an unconstitutional taking of property.

Parties complaining live in Texas, Florida, Illinois, Alabama, Washington state, Hawaii, Utah, Kentucky and other locations including an expatriate living in Rome, Italy, according to the complaint.

All of the defendants named appear to be doing business in Beaumont, Texas. Having been served electronically on April 10 with the new papers, they have not yet judicially responded to the amended pleadings.

The original complaint was filed in the 136th Texas Judicial district on Feb. 7; the amended pleadings weighed in about two months later. Discovery of documents and depositions are requested in the paperwork.

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