Fine Art Buyer’s Identity Is Relevant In Conversion Action Against Art Gallery (NY)
In Hicks v. Leslie Feely Fine Art LLC, abstract painter Marianne Hicks (“Hicks”) sued a New York City art gallery (the “Gallery”) and an unknown buyer named as a John Doe defendant, for conversion of a painting sold to the buyer as one by the renowned artist Friedel Dzubas (“Dzubas”). Hicks alleged that she is the true painter and sought replevin of the painting from the buyer.
Hicks claimed that she had a romantic relationship with Dzubas and brought the painting with her when she and Dzubas moved into a home together. Dzubas later developed Parkinson’s disease and Hicks continued to live with and care for him. At the same time, however, Dzubas’ adult children became increasingly involved in their father’s affairs and encouraged him to end his relationship with Hicks. Hicks was allegedly driven out of their home and only given a day to retrieve her belongings, so the painting remained in the house and was falsely considered part of Dzubas’ estate after his death.
Hicks filed a motion to compel the identity of the painting’s buyer. The Gallery opposed the motion, arguing that its client base is “a particularly valuable asset” safeguarded by the Gallery per “standard practice in the art industry.” The Gallery also argued that the buyer’s identity is irrelevant to the creation of the painting or its value.
The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York rejected the Gallery’s arguments and granted Hick’s motion, holding that an industry standard, without more certain information, was not a valid basis for withholding identifying information under F.R.C.P. 26(b)(1). The court found that the buyer’s identity was indeed relevant to the action because, without it, Hicks could not locate the painting for expert analysis and purpose of replevin.
The takeaway from this decision is that the identity of a buyer may be relevant and discoverable in New York conversion actions involving fine art claims.
Thank you to Alexandra Deplas for her contribution to this post. Please e-mail Andrew Gibbs with any questions.