By Elizabeth Weber, Esq.
The Supreme Court of Florida recently reinstated an art theft lawsuit between artist Ivana Vidovic Mlinar (Vidovic) and three defendants – the United Parcel Service Co. (UPS); Pak Mail, a South Florida packing store and UPS shipping service provider; and Cargo Largo, UPS’s lost goods contractor. Mlinar v. United Parcel Service Co. et al., No. SC14-54 (Fla. 2016). The suit alleges that these parties stole Vidovic’s work, profited from the theft of her paintings, used her name or likeness without Vidovic’s authorization, and, finally, that the defendants violated Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The events leading to the case took place more than ten years ago. In 2005, Vidovic’s husband shipped two of her oil paintings, Advice and The Messenger, via UPS, using services provided by Pak Mail without purchasing shipping insurance. The paintings’ final destination was the Mario Novak Gallery in New York City where Vidovic had planned to exhibit and offer her work for sale. According to an Associated Press article, Vidovic viewed the New York City exhibition “as a major opportunity to advance her career.”
After shipping the paintings to Mario Novak, proprietor of the Mario Novak Gallery, Vidovic and her husband traveled to New York City for her exhibition on the date her paintings were scheduled to arrive at Novak’s home. When Novak’s fiancé received the shipping tube that should have contained the paintings, she discovered the tube had been cut open and emptied. Vidovic, her husband, Novak, and Novak’s fiancé then found and questioned the two UPS drivers who had delivered the empty tube. The UPS drivers stated that they delivered the package in the condition in which they found it, noting that the tube had already been cut open when they received it for delivery.
Vidovic immediately contacted UPS, and the company indicated that it could not assist her in any way until she filed a missing item report with Pak Mail. Two days later, the Vidovics returned home to Florida and filed a missing item report with Roly Ramos, proprietor of the Pak Mail store from which Vidovic’s husband shipped the artist’s paintings. The Vidovics advised both UPS and Pak Mail that the two paintings at issue were labeled on the back with Vidovic’s name and address. Eight months later, Ramos contacted Vidovic and stated that she was eligible for a $100 Pak Mail credit – even though the artist valued her paintings at approximately $30,000.
Then, in 2007, a Missouri-based man named Aaron Anderson contacted Vidovic to inform her that he purchased one of her paintings from Cargo Largo for $1,000.00. It is worth noting that any lost UPS goods are transferred to Cargo Largo and subsequently auctioned for profit by Cargo Largo. Vidovic learned from Anderson that he acquired Advice at a Cargo Largo auction where the Cargo Largo auctioneer informed prospective buyers that the painting was an original Vidovic that had come to Cargo Largo as a UPS lost item. Vidovic asked Anderson whether he had purchased her other missing painting, The Messenger, to which he replied that the second painting had been offered for sale in the same auction lot but he had not purchased the piece. Vidovic asked Anderson how he had found her contact information, and he replied that he had searched for her name via Google as it appeared on the back of the painting. Anderson then offered to sell Advice back to Vidovic, which she declined. Anderson subsequently listed the painting for sale on eBay and included details of his conversation with Vidovic on the listing, going so far as to offer to introduce the future buyer of Advice to Vidovic.
Over the following weeks, Anderson continued to contact Vidovic. In that time frame, Anderson found whoever initially bought The Messenger at the Cargo Largo auction and Anderson purchased the piece. He then created three separate sale listings on Craigslist: one listing for Advice, another for The Messenger, and a third listing that offered both paintings for sale in exchange for a late model Mercedes-Benz automobile.
Vidovic subsequently filed suit against UPS, Cargo Largo, Pak Mail, and Aaron Anderson. The Associated Press noted that Anderson returned Vidovic’s paintings to her in return for being dropped from the lawsuit. UPS countered with a federal preemption claim, alleging that lawsuits involving lost goods in interstate shipping must be tried in a federal court. Under UPS’s legal theory, the two-year statute of limitations had expired on the lawsuit, which precluded Vidovic’s suit.
The Florida circuit court and district court both held in favor of UPS. However, on March 3, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court reinstated Vidovic’s lawsuit because UPS’s allegedly criminal behavior did not relate to the parcel service’s contractual obligation to transport goods and, thus, was not preempted as claimed by UPS. Mlinar v. United Parcel Service Inc. et al., No. SC14-54 (Fla. 2016).
Case No. SC14-54 in the Supreme Court of Florida was reinstated and remanded to the lower court for further proceedings.
- Fla. Stat. §§ 540.08, 772.102 (2), 772.104, 817.02 (2015).
- Mlinar v. United Parcel Service Inc. et al., No. SC14-54 (Fla. 2016)
- Complaint, Mlinar v. United Parcel Services Inc., et al., 2008 WL 9704612 (Fla. Cir. Ct., Palm Beach County, Nov. 20, 2008).
- Celia Ampel, Court Sides With Artist Against UPS Over Stolen Paintings, Daily Business Review (Mar. 4, 2016), http://www.dailybusinessreview.com/id=1202751277603/Court-Sides-With-Artist-Against-UPS-Over-Stolen-Paintings?slreturn=20160210142011.
- Nathan Hale, Fla. High Court Revives Suit Accusing UPS of Art Theft, Law360 (Mar. 3, 2016, 6:32 PM EST), http://www.law360.com/articles/766930/fla-high-court-revives-suit-accusing-ups-of-art-theft.
- Terry Spencer, Court: Artist Can Sue UPS in State Court Over Lost Paintings, The Associated Press (Mar. 3, 2016, 6:14 PM EST), http://bigstory.ap.org/article/9104b832324b45db9bf63f7cb271b14e/court-artist-can-sue-ups-state-court-over-lost-paintings.
*About the Author: Elizabeth Weber is a lawyer living in Brooklyn, NY. She graduated from the University of Florida Levin College of Law where she received her certificate in Intellectual Property Law and served as an active member of the Art Law Society and the Journal of Technology Law and Policy. She is the Spring 2016 Postgraduate Fellow with Center for Art Law.
Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to provide legal advice. Readers should not construe or rely on any comment or statement in this article as legal advice. Instead, readers should seek an attorney.