Your Browser Does Not Support JavaScript. Please Update Your Browser and reload page. Have a nice day! Case Law Corner December 2022 Newsletter

Accent Delight International LTD. v. Sotheby’s, No. 18-CV-9011 (JMF) (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 3, 2022).

Since 2015, Russian Billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev waged a legal battle against Swiss businessman Yves Bouvier, accusing him of art fraud. In a recent development, Rybolovlev is suing Sotheby’s over the company’s role in Bouvier’s scheme. Ryobolovlev alleges he was swindled out of $1 billion as he negotiated the purchase of a world class art collection, featuring Leonardo da Vinci’s Christ as Salvator Mundi. In a private mediation subject to a confidentiality agreement, Sotheby’s settled with the original sellers of the collection. Ryobolovlev has recently moved to compel the disclosure of materials related to that exact mediation. The Court applied a heightened standard to its review of that request, which Rybolovlev failed to satisfy, and ruled against his motion. 

United States v. Plata, No. 2:20-CR-32 JCM (EJY) (D. Nev. Apr. 27, 2020)

In 2019, Daniel Plata and Jonathon Pavon defaced the White River Narrows, a sacred Native American site in Nevada that is known for its prehistoric petroglyphs. The act violated the Archeological Resources Protection Act, a U.S. statute that regulates the excavation, removal, and disposition of archaeological sites on Federal and Indian lands in the U.S. In June of 2022, Pavon pleaded guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy and felony violation of the Archeological Resources Protection Act. A month later, in July of 2022, Plata pleaded guilty to misdemeanor damage of archeological resources. The defendants were sentenced on November 4, 2022. The case was investigated by the Bureau of Land Management who wanted to set an example for future perpetrators, as the legal penalties for defacing prehistoric archeological sites have not often been enforced. Read about the case HERE. Access the court’s judgment HERE.

Emden v. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, No. 4:21-CV-3348, 2022 WL 1307085 (S.D. Tex. May 2, 2022)

On May 2, 2022, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Dicision, ruled in favor of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in the Nazi era art ownership contestion case. Heirs of German Jewish merchant and art collector, Max J. Emden, claimed that an 18th century Bernardo Belloto painting, Marketplace at Pirna, was sold under duress in 1938 to an art buyer for Adolf Hitler. Following World War II, the painting was allegedly returned to the wrong owner by the Dutch government and eventually was gifted to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The judge granted the museum’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the Dutch government’s restitution of the painting was a sovereign act. Read the decision HERE.

Restitution Study Group, Inc. v. Smithsonian Institution, No. 1:2022-CV-03048 (D.C. 2022).

On October 11, 2022 the Smithsonian Institution agreed to transfer ownership of 29 Benin Bronzes to the government of Nigeria in a meeting at the National Museum of African Art. The Restitution Study Group, a New York Non-Profit, filed a temporary restraining order and Injunction on October 7, hoping to prevent the transfer of the bronzes back to Nigeria. The suit alleges the Smithsonian is in breach of trust to the citizens of the United States, the descendants of enslaved people trafficked by Benin, and is acting without legal authority. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia denied the Restitution Study Group’s request on October 14.


Canilao v. City Commercial Investments, LLC, No. 20-CV-08030-EMC (N.D. Cal. Oct. 18, 2022).

A group of six artists have lost their case against a San Francisco property owner who painted over murals placed on the front of Stud Bar, San Francisco’s oldest operating queer bar. The artists painted the murals during Pride Week in 2017. The owners of the bar painted over the murals after the bar was closed following the Covid-19 pandemic. The artists subsequently sued, arguing that the destruction of the murals violated the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) as well as the California Art Preservation Act (CAPA). District Judge Edward Chen ruled that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim under VARA as they did not have original consent from the owner. The judge did concede, however, that the works were removed intentionally and did grant the artists leave to amend, to further develop their arguments. 


Pest Control Office Ltd. v. Full Colour Black Ltd., Case R-1246/2021-5, 2022 EUIPO (Oct. 25, 2022).

A European Union Court of appeals overruled a decision by the European Union’s Intellectual Property Office, which ruled that Banksy’s trademark on the piece “Laugh Now But One Day We’ll Be in Charge” was invalid. Issue around the piece began in November 2019, when greeting card company Full Colour Black opposed the trademark, alleging  that it was filed in “bad faith”, among other allegations. This is a significant victory for Banksy, allowing the artist  to remain anonymous while enjoying the benefits of trademark protection. 


Barzilai v. Israel Museum, 2022 N.Y. Slip Op 33814 (Sup. Ct. 2022).

The New York Supreme Court has dismissed a restitution claim filed against the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. In April, a family of Holocaust survivors filed suit in New York to recalim the Bird’s Head Haggadah, the oldest illuminated Passover text in existence. The family claimed that the heirloom was lost during the rise of the Third Reich. The museum has maintained ownership of the piece since 1946. The heirs allege that the manuscript was taken from their family and resurfaced years later, during a deal with the museum’s predecessor. The family could not show that the Haggadah had been stolen definitively by Nazis, only that it had been stolen, thus making the application of the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (Heat)  Act difficult. On November 10, the commercial division of New York Supreme Court granted the Israel Museum’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. 


Indiana University Chapter of Turning Point USA, et al. v. City of Bloomington, Indiana, et al., No. 122-CV-00458SEBTAB, 2022 WL 17082799 (S.D. Ind. Nov. 18, 2022)

An Indiana district court judge sided with the conservative student group Turning Point USA, in a dispute over the City of Bloomington’s rejection of the group’s public art display request. In July 2021, Turning Point USA requested to display an “All Lives Matter” street mural in Bloomington, Indiana, following the approval of three “Black Lives Matter” street murals in the area. The City of Bloomington blocked that request in February of 2022, on the basis that it does not accept requests from private individuals. The Plaintiffs’ attorney argued that there had been previous instances where the city accepted private recommendations for public art from other organizations. In her preliminary injunction, the district court judge ruled that the city most likely discriminated against Turning Point based on their viewpoint, violating First Amendment rights. The judge ordered the city to make public the criteria whereby it approves public art submissions from private individuals and groups, and preliminarily enjoined the city from denying access to or unduly delaying Turning Point’s public art display application. Read the decision HERE.


Henri Dauman v. Sothebys Inc., No. 653772/2022 (N.Y.S Oct. 10, 2022) 

Photographer Henri Dauman is suing Sotheby’s auction house for allegedly damaging a $30,000 Hermès handbag. The purse — a 1992 Hermès Black Salvator Lizard Mini Constance — was appraised by Sotheby’s at $30,000, and consigned to the auction house in September 2022 by Henri Dauman who stated that the handbag was “in perfect condition” but was irreparably ruined once passed over to Sothebys. Dauman is now suing for the entirety of the bag’s value. Sotheby’s has said that they are working together with Dauman to arrive at an “amicable solution.” Read the summons with notice HERE.


UK | Soleymani v. Nifty Gateway LLC [2022] EWCA Civ 1297

The UK Court of Appeals ruled favorably for a Iranian-born, UK-based digital art collector, Amir Soleymani in his case against Nifty Gateway LLC. Soleymani took part in a NFT auction held on an online platform owned by Nifty Gateway LLC. The collector bid $650,000 for Abundance by the artist Beeple. His offer came in third, behind the winning bid but Nifty requires the top 100 bidders to still pay for a different version of the work. Soleymani refused to pay for an NFT that was different. Nifty froze Soleymani’s account and sought arbitration in New York, pursuant to the platform’s online terms that included a New York governing law clause and a dispute resolution clause which referred the parties to arbitration in New York. Soleymani applied to stay the arbitration and commenced a claim before the English Court. The Court of Appeals overturned a High Court decision, and ruled  that the jurisdictional protection for UK consumers in having their rights determined in public court takes priority over an arbitration agreement. The court further indicated  that Soleymani has the right to challenge the fairness of the company’s terms and conditions. A trial will be held next year in UK courts. Read the High Court’s decision HERE.