ARTnewsletter Archive

California Court Dismisses Collector’s Suit Against Sotheby’s

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco has dismissed entrepreneur and art collector Halsey Minor’s lawsuit against Sotheby’s for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty.

NEW YORK—The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco has dismissed entrepreneur and art collector Halsey Minor’s lawsuit against Sotheby’s for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty. U.S. District Judge Maxine M. Chesney ruled on Jan. 7 that the action was “duplicative” of a similar case filed by Sotheby’s against Minor in New York under the “first to file” rule that governs competing lawsuits (ANL, 10/14/08). The court granted Sotheby’s motion to dismiss the complaint in California, noting, however, that it did so “without prejudice to Minor’s pursuing his claims against Sotheby’s in the New York action.”

Last October Minor filed a lawsuit against the auction house—for which he sought class-action status—for failing to disclose a loan it had made to Ralph Esmerian, the consignor of an Edward Hicks painting, The Peaceable Kingdom with the Leopard of Serenity, that Minor bought for $9.7 million at an American art sale last May (ANL, 6/10/08). Minor’s lawsuit followed a suit Sotheby’s filed against him last September for failure to pay for three paintings he successfully bid on at auction: Andy Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes, which was sold for $301,000; Childe Hassam’s Paris, Winter Day, which sold for $3.96 million; and Hicks’s Peaceable Kingdom. In his countersuit, Minor accused Sotheby’s of conducting a “scheme to boost its own profits” by hyping lots in which the auctioneer had a financial interest. “Sotheby’s intentionally deceives its own clients into bidding more for auctioned property than they otherwise would have, and more than Sotheby’s believes the property to be worth,” his complaint states, and argues that the auction house benefits from “unjust enrichment.”

A Sotheby’s spokesperson told ARTnewsletter, “We are very pleased with the dismissal of the action filed against us in California and we look forward to a successful conclusion of the action we initiated against Halsey Minor in New York.”

Last December, Minor also brought a lawsuit in San Francisco against Christie’s for breach of fiduciary duty and fraud, alleging the auctioneer had hindered his sale of seven paintings by Richard Prince, worth an estimated $25 million.

Minor, who declined to comment, has denied having financial problems, although last June he put his 7,400-square-foot house in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles up for sale with an asking price of $12.9 million. (It was sold for $11.4 million.) He had purchased the property two years earlier for $20 million.

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