Judge dismisses Clint Arthur's suit against MOCA over Murakami prints
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has tossed out one of Clint Arthur's two class action lawsuits alleging that L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art and Louis Vuitton North America violated the Fine Prints Act, a California law that requires dealers in limited-edition art reproductions to certify their authenticity and provide information about how rare they are and how they were created.
The ruling by Judge William Highberger said that Arthur had no standing to sue the museum because he didn't accept MOCA's offer to refund the $2,655 he paid for three prints by Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami at the regular museum store. The separate federal case against Louis Vuitton concerns two different Murakami prints Arthur bought for $12,000 at an unusual special boutique the luxury goods seller had set up in the midst of a 2007-08 exhibition of Murakami's works at MOCA.
"To allow a purchaser to both keep his allegedly defective purchase and to get his money back...rewards opportunistic litigation (of which this case is a prime example)," Highberger wrote in his ruling last Friday. However, he said Arthur could file another suit "if a new and different set of facts exist at some future point in time," such as MOCA not following through on its offer of a refund, or if it fails to provide "a legally adequate certificate." The judge also denied MOCA's claim that it should be exempted from the Fine Prints Act because it is a charitable organization.
Arthur said Tuesday that he would appeal, because Highberger's ruling won't address what he sees as MOCA's having deprived all its other print-customers of their rights to certificates and accurate descriptions of their purchases -- which he thinks are important to preserving the market value and authenticity of limited-edition prints. "I think there are other issues besides the money that are important," he said. His suit alleged that MOCA had ignored the Fine Prints Act for years.
Arthur's attorney, Daniel Engel, said an appeal was important not for the money -- the Fine Prints Act provides for triple damages if violations are "willful" -- but because if Highberger's ruling stands, "it would be basically an emasculation of the Fine Prints Act." The problem, he said, is that the decision means that even blatantly dishonest dealers could avoid wider consequences by simply refunding the purchases of anyone who complains; there would be no way for many other unknowing print buyers to be alerted about problems via a class action lawsuit. Engel said that MOCA sold 750 of the Murakami prints alone.
Although the Fine Prints Act was passed in 1970, only one case before Arthur's had resulted in a legal decision. Highberger cited that early 1980s case in ruling that Arthur needed to return his prints to have a case.
MOCA provided Arthur with a certificate for his prints last month. According to court papers it began complying with other Fine Prints Act provisions, such as posting a sign advising print customers of their rights, after the suit was filed last June.
In the separate federal case, Arthur is alleging not only violations of the Fine Prints Act, but outright fraud against Louis Vuitton. He contends that the luxury goods seller allegedly concealed from buyers that Murakami prints it was selling for $6,000 and $10,000 were made from leftover material originally intended for canvas handbags designed by the artist. He has turned down Louis Vuitton's offer of a refund plus interest for his two $6,000 purchases. The merchant denies Arthur's allegations, contending that his suit is an "opportunistic" bid for "windfall profits." A hearing on Louis Vuitton's motion to dismiss the suit had been scheduled for Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, but was canceled, according to another Arthur attorney, Matthew Butterick.
-- Mike Boehm
Photo: Clint Arthur at his home in Los Angeles, with one of the three prints that were the basis of his suit against MOCA. Credit: Stefano Paltera for The Times.
Takashi Murakami at MOCA in 2007. Credit: Robert Gauthier, Los Angeles Times