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Styczinski v. Westminster Mint, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 14, 2014

THOMAS J. STYCZINSKI, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
WESTMINSTER MINT, INC., et al., Defendant.

Joseph A. Osefchen, Shane T. Prince, and Stephen P. DeNittis, DeNittis Osefchen PC, New Jersey., and Steven J. Ellison, Ellison Law Offices, Minnesota for Plaintiff.

Kelly W. Hoversten and Craig P. Miller, Gray Plant Mooty Mooty & Bennett PA, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 19]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendants' Motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Thomas J. Styczinki, a resident of Hennepin County, Minnesota brought this class action on behalf of purchasers of two or more "imitation numismatic items" manufactured, distributed, and/or sold by Defendants, Westminster Mint, Inc., a Minnesota Corporation doing business throughout the United States, Bullion International, Inc. d/b/a Highland Mint, International Fulfilment House, a Florida Corporation doing business in Minnesota and throughout the United States, Ian Clay, individually; and Michael Kott, individually (collectively "Defendants"). (Comp ¶¶ 1-9 [Doc. No. 1-1.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have failed to comply with their obligations under the Hobby Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2101("HPA") by unlawfully manufacturing, importing, distributing, marketing, and/or selling "imitation numismatic items" not appropriately marked "COPY, " as required under the HPA. (Id. ¶¶ 1-11.) Plaintiff seeks to enjoin Defendants from engaging in unlawful business practices and seeks monetary damages. (Id. ¶ 1.)

A. The Hobby Protection Act

In 1973, Congress enacted the HPA to protect hobbyists and collectors from being defrauded by corrupt individuals and businesses that marked or distributed imitation numismatic items. DeMarco v. Nat'l Collector's Mint, Inc., 229 F.R.D. 73, 77 (2d Cir. 2005). The HPA provides that

[t]he manufacture in the United States, or the importation into the United States, for introduction into or distribution in commerce of any imitation numismatic item which is not plainly and permanently marked "copy", is unlawful and is an unfair or deceptive act or practice in commerce under the Federal Trade Commission Act.

15 U.S.C. § 2101(b). The term "original numismatic item" is defined in the HPA as: "[a]nything which has been a part of a coinage or issue which has been used in exchange or has been used to commemorate a person or event." Id. at § 2106(3). In contrast, the term "imitation numismatic item" is defined in the HPA as "[a]n item which purports to be, but in fact is not, an original numismatic item or which is a reproduction, copy, or counterfeit of an original numismatic item." Id. at § 2106(4). The HPA provides that "any interested person" may commence a private enforcement action for the violation of § 2101(b). Id. at § 2102.

The HPA protects would-be consumers from unscrupulous business practices so that consumers are not deceived into "believing they are buying items that are original numismatic items... when, in fact, they are buying copies of money." Demarco, 229 F.R.D. at 77. Neither knowledge nor intent to deceive need be shown on the part of the business to prove that the HPA has been violated. In re Gold Bullion Int'l, Ltd., 92 F.T.C. 196 (1977).

B. United States and Canadian "Original Numismatic Items"

On or about November 24, 1986, the United States Mint released the American Silver Eagle coin composed of one troy ounce of 99.9% pure silver. (Comp. ¶ 13 [Doc. No. 1-1].) The American Silver Eagle coin is legal tender with a face value of one dollar and is an "original numismatic item" as defined by the HPA because it is coinage that has been or is "currently used in exchange." (Id. ¶¶ 13-15); see 15 U.S.C. § 2106(3). Among other identifying characteristics, the front side of the American Silver Eagle coin displays Adolph A. Wienman's "Walking Liberty" pictorial and contains inscriptions of the word "LIBERTY" and the phrase "IN GOD WE TRUST." (Comp. ¶ 17 [Doc. No. 1-1].) The reverse side carries an image of a heraldic eagle behind a shield holding an olive branch in its right talon and arrows in its left talon. (Id. ¶ 18.) The eagle carries a banner inscribed with the phrase "E PLURIBUS UNUM." (Id.) Additionally, the reverse side is inscribed with the words "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA." (Id.)

In 1988, the Royal Canadian Mint issued the Canadian Silver Maple Leaf coin comprised of 99.99% pure silver. (Id. ¶ 20.) The Maple Leaf coin is legal tender in Canada and carries a face value of five Canadian dollars. (Id. ¶ 21.) Like the American Silver Eagle coin, the Maple Leaf coin meets the definition of an "original numismatic item" under the HPA because it is used in exchange. (Id. ¶ 22.) The front of the Maple Leaf coin depicts the image of Queen Elizabeth II and the year of minting. (Id. ¶ 24.) The reverse side presents a centered maple leaf graphic with the number "9999" printed on ...


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