An art dealer in the District must pay more than $630,000 in attorney fees and expenses to Christie’s for a suit a judge said only served to harrass the auction house after it refused to sell a painting, the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled today in upholding a trial court decision.
The claims arose after the plaintiff, Robert Fastov, a Stanford Law School graduate, sought unsuccessfully to sell a painting through the London-based auctioneer, court records show. In 1994, Fastov sent Christie’s a 79-page, single-spaced letter—with hundreds of attachments—threatening litigation. Fastov pitched a $168,000 settlement.
“Do not bet against my inclination, will, ability, experience, and tenacity to file and successfully maintain (Fastov v. Christie’s) through its successful conclusion,” Fastov wrote in the letter, according to court records. “It will be the worst and most costly conclusion and bet of your life. The settlement proposals and purposes of this letter are inherently pacific in nature.”
Fastov filed a 225-page complaint in 1997 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. U.S. District Judge William Stafford of the Northern District of Florida, sitting by designation, granted summary judgment in favor of Christie’s in February 2006. In his order, Stafford excoriated Fastov, saying his “well-documented proclivity in this case to engage in obstructionist litigation tactics” will not be tolerated.
“Here, there is no public wrong to be righted, no class of victims seeking redress, no constitutional liberty being vindicated,” Stafford wrote in April 2008 in ordering Fastov, who is barred in D.C., to pay Christie’s attorney fees. “Instead, a greedy individual, with the advantage of a legal education and a claimed litigation experience, has initiated and maintained this lawsuit, which anyone with a modicum of common sense would have realized was without merit.”
Circuit Judges Douglas Ginsburg, Judith Rogers, and Merrick Garland said today in a one-page per curiam decision that Fastov’s “egregious conduct after judicial warning” caused Christie’s to spend unnecessary time defending a “baseless” suit. The court upheld Stafford’s finding that Fatov engaged in bad faith litigation.
Christie’s was represented by Hughes Hubbard & Reed in Miami in the trial court. In the D.C. Circuit, Barnes & Thornburg represented Christie's. Adrienne Wisenberg, of counsel in the firm's D.C. office, was on the brief. Fastov, who was pro se in the D.C. Circuit, declined to comment.