Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Louis Vuitton Multiples Suit

Lee Rosenbaum has a post today on the lawsuits recently filed against Louis Vuitton and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art alleging violations of the California print disclosure statute in connection with the sale of works by Takashi Murakami. I missed the story when it first broke, but I did want to mention one thing about it that seemed odd to me. As I read the statute, the available recovery for a violation is "the consideration paid by the purchaser for the multiple, with interest at the legal rate thereon, upon the return of the multiple in the condition in which received by the purchaser" -- in other words, you can return the print and get your money back (with interest). If you can show the violation was willful, you can get three times that amount (but presumably you still have to return the print). I would think that Vuitton (and, perhaps, the museum) has a pretty strong defense to a willfulness charge since they are not really in the art-selling business and therefore wouldn't have reason to know about something the LA Times calls "an obscure chapter of the California Civil Code called the Fine Prints Act."

According to that same LA Times story, Vuitton has already offered the plaintiff a refund plus interest (i.e., what he would be entitled to for a non-willful violation), but he turned it down, apparently on the ground that "the suits were not about just one art buyer's losses, but rather a consumer class action on behalf of all purchasers in a similar position. 'What does [a refund for the plaintiff] do for all the other people who bought them? It leaves them hanging.'" Leaving aside the question of what "losses" the plaintiff has sustained, wouldn't the class have to be composed of only those buyers who are willing to return their prints in the condition they were received (in order to be eligible for damages under the statute)? And isn't it likely that, at the end of the day, that turns out to be a class of one?