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United States

Philipp et al. v. Federal Republic of Germany et al., 894 F.3d 406 (D. D.C. 2018). The U.S. Supreme Court has delayed its decision on whether to hear an appeal brought by German state museums regarding the proper ownership of the Guelph Treasure, which is estimated to be worth at least €200 million. The treasure is claimed by the descendants of a group of Jewish art dealers in Germany, who transferred the works in 1935 to a Nazi-controlled bank for a fraction of their worth in a “genocidal taking” during the Holocaust. The Guelph Treasure is currently in Berlin’s Kunstgewerbemuseum, which claims that there had been no forced transaction and that the Treasure should remain at the Berlin museum. The case was brought in the U.S., based on the defendant’s commercial activity within the U.S., to which the defendants replied that, as a foreign state agency, it cannot be sued in United States courts, in accordance with the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The case was nonetheless heard in the district court of the United States. In the appeal to the Supreme Court, the defendants argued that the lower court’s ruling “dramatically expanded the jurisdiction of U.S. courts to hear claims against foreign nations for alleged human rights violations that occurred entirely abroad.” Consequently, the U.S. Supreme Court delayed its decision on whether to hear the appeal. Petition for Writ Of Certiorari available here.

Munro v. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Inc. et al, No. 1:2020cv20079 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 1, 2020). U.K. artist Bruce Munro filed suit against the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens in Miami for copyright infringement. Munro claims that the Garden’s holiday illuminations, supplied by the Chinese company G-Light, represented “intentional copying” of his immersive light installation “Forest of Light,” which was displayed at Longwood Gardens in the U.K. in 2012. Complaint available upon request.

Clark v. Castor and Pollux L.L.C., 2019 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1638 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2020). Artist Lala Abaddon has been awarded $266,500 in a dispute with the owners of the now-closed Castor Gallery. In April 2019, Abaddon brought suit under N.Y. Arts & CultAff. § 12.01, after the gallery owners refused to pay for her sold works and threatened to burn her unsold works. The owners claimed that they were owed for the costs of organizing the artist’s show. Decision available upon request.

Zuckerman v. Metro. Museum of Art, 928 F.3d 186 (S.D.N.Y. 2019), petition for cert. filed (Jan. 24, 2020) (18-634). Laura Zuckerman has filed a petition for certiorari, requesting that the U.S. Supreme Court evaluate the legal ownership of Picasso’s the “Actor,” currently owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Zuckerman, is the great grand-niece of the Jewish owners of the painting (the Leffmanns) who sold the piece in 1937. The Leffmanns sold “the Actor” at a reduced price, in order to finance their flight from Italy to Switzerland. The Metropolitan Museum asserts that the family had waited too long to assert their rights, whereas the plaintiff claims that a six-year statute of limitations applies, per the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016 (HEAR Act). The case was dismissed by the Second Circuit, based on the doctrine of latches, and the plaintiff now petitions the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether the state doctrine of latches would trump the federal HEAR Act. Read our case review here. Petition for Writ Of Certiorari available here.

Sweet Cicely Daniher v. Rae et al., No. 5:20-cv-00612-NC (Cal. N.D. filed Jan. 27, 2020). San Francisco artist Sweet Cicely Daniher is suing Pixar, Disney, and producer Kori Rae for copyright infringement, alleging the defendants copied her “tremendously cool” van featuring a unicorn in the upcoming animated movie, Onwards. The plaintiff had previously rented her “Vanicorn” to the defendants, only to find out that they designed a similar-looking version for the movie, replacing the unicorn with a Pegasus. The artist claims the producer called her to apologize for the theft, but only after they had already made merchandise and toys featuring the van. She is claiming damages that will largely depend on the revenue from the film. Complaint available upon request.

Tananbaum v. Gagosian Gallery, Inc. et al., No. 651889/2018 (NY Sup. Ct.). The lawsuit brought by collector Steve Tananbaum against the Gagosian Gallery over the delayed delivery of three sculptures by Jeff Koons has been settled. In August 2019, a New York state supreme court judge had ruled against the defendant’s motion to dismiss based on Gagosian’s breach of contract and the New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law.

Guzzini Properties Ltd., v. “Untitled by Rudolf Stingel, 2012,” in Rem, No. 656467/2019 (NY Sup. Ct. filed Jan. 31, 2020). In October 2019, the art-collecting entity Guzzini filed a lawsuit against Inigo Philbrick for the return of a portrait of Pablo Picasso by Rudolf Stingel, alleging that Philbrick had consigned the work without the Plaintiffs’ consent or knowledge. In late January 2020, collector Andre Sakhai has submitted an affidavit as part of that lawsuit, claiming that he entered into a deal with Philbrick to buy a Wade Guyton work, and that, similar to Guzzini’s claims, he later discovered the dealer had sold the work without his knowledge. Sakhai is seeking to intervene in the lawsuit and to temporarily restrain the disposition of the work. Affidavit and memorandum of law available here or upon request.

International

Germany | Angela Gulbenkian has been accused of fraudulent art dealing and now has two criminal and civil charges pending against her. The first complaint was filed in March 2018 in the U.K., when Mathieu Ticolat claimed to have paid $1.4 million for a Yayoi Kusama pumpkin sculpture that was never delivered. The second complaint was filed in January 2020 in Munich, Germany on behalf of an anonymous London art dealer who sold and delivered an Andy Warhol “Queen Elizabeth II” print for $151,000 to Gulbenkian, who failed to pay the art dealer. The U.K. trial against Gulbenkian’s art dealing is scheduled for March 2020 and the German trial is scheduled for May 2020.

India | Subodh Gupta, a leading Indian artist, filed a defamation case in Delhi High Court against the Instagram account @herdsceneand, requesting posts regarding sexual harassment allegations against him to be taken down and seeking approximately £500,000 in damages to his reputation and career. The Delhi High Court ordered Google and Instagram to remove a number of URLs and posts relating to the defamatory content against Gupta, which garnered significant attention in the international press because many viewed this decision to be a violation of freedom of speech and information laws under the Indian constitution. The court ruled that whether @herdsceneand will be allowed to maintain their anonymity will be decided at a later date.

Netherlands | A lawsuit has been filed by descendants of a Jewish art collector seeking the restitution of Wassily Kandinsky’s “Painting with Houses (Bild mit Häusern)” (1909) from a museum owned by the city of Amsterdam. The heirs contest the Netherlands’ Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications’ finding that there was no evidence that the painting, purchased by the museum in 1940 for the equivalent of €1,400, was sold under duress during the Nazi occupation.

Spain | Jaime Botin, heir to Santander Bank, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined €52.4 million. Botin attempted to remove Picasso’s “Head of a Young Woman” from Spain on his yacht. This was in violation of Spain’s heritage laws, which require permits for exporting ‘national treasures’ which are more than 100 years old.

UK | The Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede, the Netherlands, is suing art dealer Simon Dickinson before London courts after hackers infiltrated a sales deal between the parties and convinced the Museum to transfer $3.1 million into a Hong Kong bank account. The Museum argued that the dealer was negligent in preventing the fraud and that his team was “aware of emails between the museum and the hackers, but did nothing to stop the transaction.” The court has rejected the negligence claim but allowed the Museum to amend its claims. Ownership of the painting, John Constable’s “A View of Hampstead Heath: Child’s Hill, Harrow in the Distance” (1824) is still undecided.