Thursday, April 8, 2010
Appeals Court Publishes Ruling Limiting Ordinance on Book Dealers
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal has ordered publication of its opinion that a Los Angeles city ordinance requiring a permit for persons in “the business of buying, selling, exchanging or otherwise dealing in secondhand books” does not apply to those who merely collect books for personal enjoyment.
Div. Two on Tuesday granted a request to publish its ruling last month that Los Angeles book collector Richard Hopp—who promotes his hobby in publications, online and at various events—does not have to obtain a police permit for his activities.
Hopp brought suit for declaratory judgment after the Los Angeles Police Department told him he needed a permit under Los Angeles Municipal Code Sec. 103.310 to set up an “exhibitor’s table” or “buying booth” at city events to inform people of his interest in purchasing “books, documents, and ephemera.”
The section requires secondhand book dealers to obtain a written permit from the city’s Board of Police Commissioners, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey granted the city’s request for summary judgment, ruling that a hobbyist is a “secondhand book dealer” subject to the ordinance.
The Court of Appeal reversed in an opinion by Presiding Justice Roger W. Boren. Accepting Hopp’s representations that he purchases items only for personal use, not for resale, the justice rejected the city’s contention that a collector who acquires used books for personal enjoyment is as much a “secondhand book dealer” as someone who purchases them for resale.
“The ordinance is directed at persons who engage in a commercial activity—both buying and selling—with a view to profit,” he wrote. “Someone who simply collects books for personal enjoyment is not a ‘secondhand book dealer’….
“Our conclusion is a matter of logic and common sense. Many people purchase secondhand books for their personal use and enjoyment—at bookstores specializing in used books, at public library book fairs, at yard sales, at swap meets, or on the internet. New lawyers may want to purchase a set of annotated California codes from a retiring lawyer.
“Under the City’s interpretation of its ordinance, all of these secondhand books purchasers must obtain a police permit from the City, even if they have no intention of reselling the books. The ordinance cannot bear the weight of such an absurd result.”
Boren said the city’s concerns about trying to curtail crime and prevent used book purchasers from becoming “fences” was misplaced so long as Hopp did not actually sell any books.
He also rejected the city’s claim that it did not seek to impose the permit requirement on people who “want to buy one book, or even 1,000 books” so long as they did so quietly and privately, writing, “[n]o valid distinction can be drawn between book collectors who go about their hobby in a quiet manner and those who do so with overt enthusiasm.”
Justices Kathryn Doi Todd and Judith M. Ashmann-Gerst joined Boren in his opinion.
Hopp told the MetNews yesterday he was “glad that the court considered and gave a favorable decision regarding publishing on an issue that’s a serious matter, not only civilly but criminally.”
However, other hobbyists have claimed the LAPD has begun using state law to target them, pointing to the case of toy collector Joel Magee, who was arrested in Los Angeles on Jan. 15 for operating without a license as required by Business and Professions Code Sec. 21640, a misdemeanor.
The provision prohibits any person from engaging “in the business of secondhand dealer” without a license. “Secondhand dealer” is defined in Sec. 21626 as any person or entity—with the exception of coin dealers, gun show participants, auctioneers, and those who recondition and sell major household appliances—whose “business includes buying, selling, trading, taking in pawn, accepting for sale on consignment, accepting for auctioning, or auctioning secondhand tangible personal property.”
Magee, who travels the country appraising and purchasing antique toys, could not be reached for comment.
However, the St. Louis, Mo. chapter of the Better Business Bureau last October accused him in a press release of appraising toys at a “small fraction of the guidebook value” and offering to purchase toys he appraised at “considerably less than what the items typically might bring if sold through other methods.”
Magee also admitted in an article published last month on the website Antiqueweek.com that he reconditions the toys he purchases for resale to collectors.
Representatives of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
As for Hopp, he said he had ceased conducting hobby-related activities at events within the city.
“I don’t do anything in the City of Los Angeles, that I guarantee you,” he remarked.
The case is Hopp v. City of Los Angeles, B215265.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company