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Judge: Fan can sue Sox ticket reseller

Case over boosting of prices could put firms out of business

A consumer who balked at paying a Weymouth ticket reseller $500 for a Red Sox-Yankees ticket at Fenway Park with a face value of $80 is entitled to sue the reseller under the state's Consumer Protection Act, a Quincy District Court judge ruled yesterday.

The decision, by Judge Mark S. Coven, merely allows the case against Admit One Ticket Agency to proceed to trial, but the wording of the ruling could spell trouble for ticket resellers.

The state's antiscalping law bars resellers from charging more than $2 above the ticket's face value, plus certain service charges. Ticket resellers have gotten away with charging far more because the state Department of Public Safety, which licenses ticket resellers, has never enforced the law.

But if the lawsuit brought by Dorchester consumer activist Colman Herman succeeds, ticket resellers could be put out of business, as Coven suggested during oral arguments last month on Admit One's motion to dismiss the case.

``You're going to put all these ticket agencies out of business if they're only able to charge $2 plus a service charge," Coven said at last month's hearing.

Herman yesterday called Coven's ruling a major victory. ``It allows me to go to trial and do discovery to find out where Admit One gets its tickets," he said. He said he suspected Red Sox season ticket holders were the agency's chief source of tickets.

Joel G. Beckman, an attorney for Admit One, said yesterday's ruling has no bearing on the outcome of the case. ``There's no injury here," Beckman said. ``Even in Boston, I don't think you have a right to attend a baseball game."

Herman claims the prices charged by ticket resellers are outrageous. He said if they don't like the law, which restricts markups, they should work to change it.

There was some movement to change the law last year, after a spokeswoman for the state's Public Safety office said ``no one is complying with the letter of the law."

The agency began working on a redraft of the antiscalping law in November, considering everything from a higher markup on ticket resales to letting the free market dictate prices. But little progress appears to have been made in the last seven months.

``We've been focused on addressing areas where life-safety issues are at risk," said Kelly Nantel, spokeswoman for the agency.

In its motion to dismiss Herman's lawsuit, Admit One argued that Herman was improperly acting as a private attorney general. Admit One also argued that Herman had not been injured, a requirement under the Consumer Protection Act, because he never actually bought a Red Sox ticket.

Coven ruled that Herman was entitled to sue because the antiscalping law does not specifically prohibit an individual from enforcing the law on his own. He also ruled that Herman, though he suffered no monetary loss, may have been injured by his inability to purchase a ticket except at an inflated price.

``The plaintiff had a protected right to purchase a ticket at a price established by law that balances the economic interests of the defendant and the consumer's interests in the event to which the ticket would admit. The plaintiff made an effort to secure a ticket reflective of this balance and was denied the opportunity," Coven wrote.

Herman is also preparing to sue Ace Ticket Worldwide Inc., of Boston, for its resale of tickets to a Jimmy Buffett concert at the Tweeter Center for the Performing Arts in Mansfield.

In a separate proceeding this year, Ace argued that the antiscalping law doesn't cover the resale of tickets to events in Boston, including Red Sox games.

The Ace case, in which Herman was not a plaintiff, was voluntarily dismissed by the parties.

Bruce Mohl can be reached at mohl@globe.com.

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