844 S.E.2d 120 (W.Va. 2020), Alex Lyon & Son, auction, auctioneer, auctioneers, auctions, Civil Rights Act of 1866, damages, deny, Inc. v. Leach, registration, right to register, Supreme Court of West Virginia
Our question today involves if a potential bidder at your auction can sue you in response to you denying his right (privilege) to bid? We hope to answer this question here, but first, bidding is a right (and not a privilege) as we wrote here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/is-bidding-at-auction-a-privilege-or-right/.
Secondly, can you as an auctioneer deny any bidders? You can, but it’s best to not deny any capriciously or arbitrarily, and rather only if he, she, or it doesn’t satisfy your registration requirements. For instance, if you require a credit card, phone number, and driver’s license, then you must let anyone with a credit card, phone number, and driver’s license register and deny registration with anyone lacking any of those three requirements.
A notable case comes from West Virginia where the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia case of Alex Lyon & Son, Sales Managers and Auctioneers, Inc. v. Leach, 844 S.E.2d 120 (W.Va. 2020) the Court held in part that “Fundamental principles of fairness required the defendant to treat the [original] plaintiff and [other bidder] equally.”
This material case involved allowing one bidder to participate lacking the registration requirements, bidding against another bidder who had satisfied the registration requirements. We served as an expert witness in this case and believe it fair to apply this same sense of “fairness” to denying a bidder’s participation.
However, our question here involves if a declined bidder could sue you? We think that’s possible, as one, basically anyone can sue anyone. Secondly, the question regarding if this declined bidder could sue you involves if there would be qualifiable damages — and there may be.
Most notably, did you decline this bidder because he didn’t satisfy your registration requirements? Or, did you arbitrarily or capriciously deny his participation? If he didn’t satisfy your registration requirements, you have a right (and obligation) to deny his participation, but otherwise, you don’t have that right.
We would submit if you denied a bidder who did satisfy your registration requirements, there may indeed be damages in that he otherwise could have purchased and resold for a profit, or satisfied some emotional need … and again, if you denied him based upon him not satisfying your registration requirements, he likely has no plausible claim.
It’s also important to note that no auctioneer in the United States can deny a bidder solely based upon race, color nor ancestry per the Civil Rights Act of 1866. https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2014/10/08/auctions-the-1866-civil-rights-act/.
Auctioneers should endeavor to register as many bidders as possible and deny any bidders who do not serve the seller’s interests — as memorialized in the registration requirements and not “on the fly” as has been suggested. We recommend you secure a competent attorney to discuss the particulars of your registration terms and conditions.
Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services, and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, and an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Western College of Auctioneering. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.