Christie's toppled: Jury hands Minor $8 million victory
After a two-week trial in a federal court in San Francisco, jurors have awarded Internet millionaire and Charlottesville hotel builder Halsey Minor over $8 million in his lawsuit against Christie's, a rebuke to the auction house and a change of outcome for the frequent litigant.
"We have a verdict," scrawled the foreperson on Friday, May 21, at 1:51pm as the jury found that Christie's committed fraud and conversion against Minor and awarded him $8.57 million. The jury did, however, grant Christie's, in its counterclaim, $1.5 million for breach of contract when Minor declined to pay for art he purchased at auction.
"I guess we can scratch the Halsey owes number down some," Minor jots in an email to a reporter in reference to past stories suggesting that Minor might owe creditors as much as $60 million.
Minor has recently lost lawsuits to an arm of Merrill Lynch ($21.6 million) and to the Sotheby's auction house ($6.7 million) and been named California's leading tax delinquent. He remains embroiled in suits revolving around the construction-halted Landmark hotel on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall, and he is waging a battle for control of the Hialeah horse race track in Florida.
At issue in the recent trial were seven Richard Prince paintings Minor had lent Christie’s to sell for around $25 million. “By the time the artworks were returned," Minor complained, "they had declined in value significantly.”
Christie’s claimed that Minor didn’t hold clear title to the artworks because they were allegedly pledged to secure a credit line loan from Merrill and that he committed fraud and breach of contract because he “knew” he couldn’t pay the $12.2 million he bid for auction-bought paintings, including “A Rearing Stallion” by Sir Anthony van Dyck, “A Passing Shower in the Yellowstone Canyon” by Thomas Moran, and a work by French impressionist Mary Cassatt.
A prepared statement from Christie's lauded the portion of the jury verdict that went the company's way and hinted that an appeal of the fraud ruling may lie in the future.
–story updated Monday, May 24 with Christie's view
(an early version of this story misidentified the artist Richard Prince)