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Trekkie's Suit Against Auction House Fails to Live Long, Prosper'Star Trek' fan bought memorabilia 'as is,' appellate panel says in rejecting claim against Christie's
A "Star Trek" fan who claims he was humiliated after spending more than $24,000 on fake props at an auction has had his $7 million suit against Christie's auction house zapped by an appellate court. Among the items was a visor the fan believed was worn by an android character played by Brent Spiner. When Spiner was asked to autograph the item at a convention, the actor allegedly told the fan it wasn't real and warned others not to buy fake memorabilia "like the guy who paid 12 Grand for a phony visor from Christie's."
New York Law Journal2009-12-23 12:00:00 AM
A "Star Trek" fan who claims he was humiliated after spending more than $24,000 on fake props at a Christie's auction has had his $7 million suit against the auction house zapped by a New York appellate court.
Among the items Ted Moustakis bought at the 2006 auction to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the "Star Trek" franchise was a visor he believed was worn by "Data," an android character played by actor Brent Spiner in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," a sequel to the original TV show.
But when Moustakis attended a "Star Trek" convention and asked Spiner to autograph the visor, the actor allegedly told him the visor was not real. Spiner then warned other fans to be careful not to purchase fake memorabilia, "like the guy who paid 12 Grand for a phony visor from Christie's."
Calling the entire experience "embarrassing and emotionally disturbing," Moustakis sued Christie's Inc. and CBS Paramount Television, producers of the show, for more than $7 million and accused the auction house of "willfully and in bad faith" failing to deliver authentic merchandise.
Tuesday, a unanimous panel of the Appellate Division, 1st Department, dismissed the fan's suit, holding in the unsigned ruling of Moustakis v. Christie's Inc., 1847, that the conditions of sale, which described the merchandise as "as is," precluded Moustakis from recovering damages.
Moustakis bid for and won three items at the October 2006 auction, which according to his papers, Christie's billed as a "historic pop culture event" featuring a "rare and unique collection" of "Star Trek" memorabilia.
In addition to the visor, which he bought for $6,000, Moustakis spent $11,400 on a Data Starfleet Uniform and $6,600 for a poker table that he claims was identified by Christie's as having been "used in the Ten Forward lounge of the Starship Enterprise."
The character Lt. Cmdr. Data was portrayed as a sentient android born in the Ornicron Theta science colony with advanced mathematical and programming abilities. He served as the second officer and chief operations officer aboard the starships USS Enterprise-D and USS Enterprise-E.
In 2007, Moustakis traveled to a Las Vegas "Star Trek" convention where he asked Spiner to autograph the visor. It was then that Richard Arnold, a "Star Trek" expert, told Moustakis the visor was not the real thing.
Spiner confirmed this. Later, Moustakis allegedly found out that a uniform identical to the one he had purchased at the auction was available on eBay for less than half of what he paid and noticed the poker table did not have a distinctive black border like the one on the Enterprise.
Claiming Christie's and Paramount had misled him about the authenticity of the items, Moustakis sued for negligent misrepresentation, fraud and violations of the General Business Law and demanded millions of dollars in punitive damages.
According to Moustakis, Christie's "had knowledge of hundreds, if not thousands of character duplicate uniforms that Paramount was warehousing."
He claimed the art house's promotional statements, along with the description of the uniform in the catalogue, led him to reasonably believe that the item was one of a kind.
And Moustakis alleged that Spiner had informed Christie's the visor was not authentic before the auction.
ITEMS SOLD 'AS IS'
In October 2008, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan A. Madden dismissed Moustakis' complaint.
Tuesday, in a four-paragraph ruling, the 1st Department affirmed Madden's ruling.
"Contrary to plaintiff's contention that defendant Christie's had represented the Commander Data uniform to be one of a kind, no such representation was ever made in the auction catalog," the panel wrote.
Moreover, the conditions of sale, which Moustakis accepted, expressly stated that "all property is sold 'as is' without any representation or warranty of any kind by Christie's or the seller," the court noted.
The panel held that the fraud and negligent misrepresentation claims were duplicative of the breach of contract claims and concluded that Moustakis had not sufficiently stated a violation of General Business Law §§349 or 350.
"Finally, the misconduct alleged here, which arises out of a private contract, does not resemble the egregious wrongdoing that could be considered part of a pattern directed at the public generally, so as to warrant the imposition of punitive damages," the panel held.
Justices John W. Sweeny Jr., James M. Catterson, Dianne T. Renwick, Helen E. Freedman and Sheila Abdus-Salaam sat on the panel.
Jeffrey Benjamin of Forest Hills, Queens, who represented Moustakis, said he was considering seeking leave to appeal the decision.
Nicole A. Auerbach of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schultz, who represented Christie's and Paramount, did not return a call for comment.
Sandra L. Cobden, senior counsel and head of dispute resolution at Christie's, said the auction house "welcomed" the decision and said the sale remains an "entertainment highlight in the memorabilia" market.