Ritchie Bros. denies Russo and Steele’s lawsuit allegations
Last month, Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers offered no comment when contacted about a lawsuit filed by Russo and Steele over the loss of Russo’s Arizona Auction Week venue, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Ritchie Bros. has plenty to say now, however.
In a 22-page answer to the suit, which was filed on June 10, Canada-based Ritchie Bros denied allegations that it engaged in “inequitable, unjust, and irregular business conduct” to undermine Russo and Steele’s business relationship with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, owner of Salt River Fields. Russo has held its Arizona collector car auction at Talking Stick since 2016, but its contract was not renewed. Oklahoma’s Leake Auction Company, which is owned by Ritchie Bros., announced that it will hold its own event at the venue during 2020 Arizona Auction Week.
Leake executives Gary and Muffy Bennett are also named in the suit, as is Mark Landolfi, who had been Russo and Steele’s director of operations. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, alleges Landolfi conspired against Russo to help Leake secure the Salt River Fields sports complex venue. Russo terminated its relationship with Landolfi in October 2018.
Ritchie Bros. denies the conspiracy allegations and “specifically denies either knowledge of or the existence of efforts ‘behind the scenes to sabotage the relationship between R&S and [Salt River Fields/Maricopa Indian Community].’” In its response, Ritchie stated it was “unaware of any written agreement between R&S and Landolfi.” In fact, it states that it “specifically asked about the existence of any written agreements, including non-compete agreements, and was told that no written agreements existed.”
Although Ritchie Bros. admits that it was negotiating with Salt River Fields “at or near the time” that Russo’s contract was not renewed, it says it simply took advantage of the venue’s availability. “R&S lost the Salt River Fields venue to a competitor, not due to any wrongful acts of Ritchie Bros. or third parties, but because Salt River Fields sought the business of, and eventually preferred to contract with, Ritchie Bros.,” the response states. “… In short, R&S lost its venue ‘fair and square.’”
Ritchie Bros. claims Russo has found an alternative venue for auction week, scheduled for January 15–19, 2020, so any damages it may have sustained are limited.
Ritchie Bros. is requesting that the suit be dismissed without prejudice, which means it cannot be refiled. It is also asking Russo to cover all associated fees.