Plaintiff defaults in Nazi loot lawsuit against Sotheby's

The Art Newspaper 27 August 2004
Martha Lufkin

Lawyer for Holocaust victims fails to turn up in court The lawyer for the Association of Holocaust Victims for Restitution of Artwork and Masterpieces (AHVRAM) did not appear in a New York court on 19 August for a hearing on Sotheby’s request that the court dismiss the group’s lawsuit against it. It was expected that the judge would throw out the suit.

Yet the suit had to be dismissed because the complaint was never properly served on Sotheby’s as required by law, nor is AHVRAM a legally recognised association capable of bringing a lawsuit, Sotheby’s told the court. The complaint also failed to state adequate grounds for a lawsuit, Sotheby’s said.

In a statement dated 19 August, Sotheby’s said the claim that it had trafficked in Holocaust-era stolen art was “patently false” and that the lawsuit was “without merit” and “reprehensible”. It said that it had played a “pioneering role” in the art market in addressing the issue of Holocaust-era art looting, including helping conceive and create the database at the Art Loss Register targeted at such works, working “closely with virtually every governmental and non-governmental organisation involved in this issue”, consulting with recognised scholars and working with the heirs of numerous Holocaust victims.

Attorneys for Sotheby’s said that mailings sent to the New Jersey address provided by Mr Fagan in his court complaint had been returned as undeliverable. AHVRAM had failed to give evidence of its members, size or activities showing that it is an appropriate party to bring a lawsuit related to Holocaust-era art looting. Even if AHVRAM had met procedural requirements, the auction house told the court, the complaint did not state grounds for a lawsuit, because Sotheby’s had no fiduciary duty to any of AHVRAM’s “putative” members. The court documents cited a separate instance in which Mr Fagan had sought to file a lawsuit without properly serving the required documents on the named defendant, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sotheby’s is represented by Steven Alan Reiss, Howard B. Comet, and Jonathan Bloom, of the New York law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

The complaint, filed in State trial court in June by attorney Edward D. Fagan citing a mailing address in New Jersey, claimed billions of dollars in damages for alleged participation by the auction house in dealings related to Nazi-looted art.
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