A New York court has ruled that Bill Koch may not sue Acker Merrall and Condit - a decision Koch's camp has said it will challenge.
The billionaire Florida collector filed his case in April 2008, in New York, charging the Manhattan auction house and retailer with misrepresentation.
The claim related to fine and rare wines Koch bought at auction for a total of $77,925 (£39,242).
Koch said experts had found that at least five bottles bought from Acker ‘are counterfeit or likely counterfeit’ and that others ‘are suspect, requiring further research.’
Koch has also filed several lawsuits associated with the ‘Jefferson bottles’, including one with German dealer Hardy Rodenstock, and one with Christie’s earlier this year.
Now the New York Appellate Division has reversed the lower court ruling
which had allowed Koch to pursue the claims against Acker.
The court said, ‘a reasonable consumer, alerted by…disclaimers contained in Acker’s auction catalog, including that “prospective bidders must satisfy themselves by inspection”…would not have relied [on], and thus would not have been misled [by]… Acker’s catalog descriptions.’
Acker’s counsel Stephen Meister said, ‘Koch spent millions of dollars buying rare wines at auction from Acker – some 1,500 bottles over the years – and after spending millions more inspecting those bottles for more than two years, he could only find 5 bottles which were questionable, all of which were not even definitively proved to be counterfeit. This was hardly a case of consumer fraud.’
Acker principal John Kapon said, ‘We do our best to check every bottle that we offer at auction, and routinely eliminate any bottles about which we have doubts regarding authenticity or storage.’
He added that he and Koch were ‘on the same side in this issue – we both want to eliminate fraud in fine wines.’
Brad Goldstein, director of corporate affairs for William Koch’s Oxbow Group, reacted with fury and said they would challenge the decision.
He said that John Kapon ‘got a ruling in a lower court of New York that said an auction house has a licence to steal.
‘We feel the court is wrong to allow auction houses to do bait and switches.
‘It’s reprehensible and we are challenging this. You shouldn’t be able to write any nonsense in the front of the catalogue and then a disclaimer in fine print in the back. The ruling is absurd and flies in the face of every consumer protection law.’
Written by Adam Lechmere, and Maggie Rosen