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Case Against Sotheby’s Dismissed

On July 1,2013, Judge Richard Seeborg of the Northern District of California issued a 10-page order granting the motion to dismiss Jeff filed on behalf of our client Sotheby’s, the global art business.  Steven Brooks, an art collector in San Francisco, filed the case against Sotheby’s in San Francisco Superior Court claiming that Sotheby’s had misrepresented the provenance of the painting he purchased in London in 2004.  Several years after purchasing the painting, Brooks learned that it had once been owned by Hermann Goering, a fact unknown at the time the painting was sold.

In response to Brooks’ complaint, Jeff filed a notice of removal to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.  We then filed a motion to dismiss the case for improper venue based on the clear choice of forum clause in the Sotheby’s Conditions of Business.  Brooks opposed the motion and claimed that enforcement of the forum clause would violate California public policy.  After full briefing and a hearing, Judge Seeborg rejected Brooks’ arguments and granted the motion.  The order is available below.  We believe that this is the first decision in the United States enforcing the choice of forum clause in Sotheby’s Conditions of Business.  Given the worldwide nature of Sotheby’s art auctions, this was an important vindication of this contractual provision.  The decision received attention in both legal and art publications.

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