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Barnet v. Ministry of Culture & Sports of the Hellenic Republic

United States District Court for the Southern District of New York

June 21, 2019, Decided; June 21, 2019, Filed

18 Civ. 4963 (KPF)

Opinion

 [*296]  OPINION AND ORDER

KATHERINE POLK FAILLA, District Judge:

This action revolves around the disputed ownership of a centuries-old, 14-centimeter-tall, bronze figure of a horse (the "Bronze Horse"). Plaintiffs Howard J. Barnet, Peter L. Barnet, and Jane L. Barnet (collectively, the "Barnet Plaintiffs"), along with Sotheby's, Inc. ("Sotheby's," and together with the Barnet Plaintiffs, "Plaintiffs"), bring this action against Defendant Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Hellenic Republic (the "Ministry" or "Greece"), seeking a declaratory judgment that the Barnet Plaintiffs are the lawful owners of the Bronze Horse and, further, that Sotheby's may sell the figure [**2]  on their behalf. Defendant, for its part, contends that the Bronze Horse was illegally removed from Greece and should be repatriated.

Rather than resolve these issues through the litigation, Defendant asserts immunity from litigation, and moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Specifically, Defendant argues that (i) the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (the "FSIA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1602-11; and (ii) Plaintiff Sotheby's lacks Article III standing because it does not sufficiently allege injury-in-fact. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendant's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND1

A. Factual Background

On November 16, 1973, Howard and Saretta Barnet purchased the Bronze Horse. (Compl. ¶ 21). The figure, which dates back to the 8th Century B.C.E., is an example of [**3]  a common style of Greek statutes depicting horses from the Geometric period. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 33). The Barnets added the Bronze Horse to their private art collection, displaying it at their New York home for more than 20 years. (Id. at ¶ 24). In 1992, Howard Barnet passed away and the ownership of the figure vested entirely in Saretta Barnet. (Id. at ¶ 26). In 2012, ownership of the Bronze Horse was transferred to the 2012 Saretta Barnet Revocable Trust (the "Trust"), of which the Barnet Plaintiffs are the sole trustees. (Id. at ¶ 28).

In July 2017, after Saretta Barnet's death, the Barnet Plaintiffs consigned the Bronze Horse to Sotheby's for sale, along with numerous other items from the Barnet collection. (Compl. ¶¶ 29-30). Sotheby's planned to sell the Bronze Horse at an auction scheduled for May 14, 2018, in New York, New York. (Id. at ¶ 31). As is customary prior to any auction, on April 25, 2018, Sotheby's published an auction catalog online that included the Bronze Horse. (Id. at ¶¶ 32-33). The auction catalog described the provenance, or ownership history, of the Bronze Horse, which potential buyers use to confirm the authenticity of a work of art. (Id. at ¶ 34).

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391 F. Supp. 3d 291 *; 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104313 **; 2019 WL 2568458

HOWARD J. BARNET, PETER L. BARNET, JANE L. BARNET, and SOTHEBY'S INC., Plaintiffs, -v.- MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND SPORTS OF THE HELLENIC REPUBLIC, Defendant.

CORE TERMS

Bronze, Horse, auction, demand letter, commercial activity, ownership, withdrew, allegations, motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs', quotations, sending, subject matter jurisdiction, sovereign immunity, foreign sovereign, foreign state, provenance, disputed, buyers, direct effect, repatriate, sovereign, heritage, withdraw, courts, facial