SOLD! Oops … NY Court Rules on Disputed Auction

A NY Federal Court recently denied a preliminary injunction and held that an auctioneer had the right to re-open bidding where he determined he missed a bid made before he struck his hammer.

In Callimanopulos v. Christie’s Inc., a convoluted seating arrangement prevented the key parties from seeking each other during the auction of Grey by Sam Francis. The auctioneer struck his hammer when he thought plaintiff’s $3 million bid was unchallenged. However, he failed to see that Christie’s “spotters” attempted to signal him of a higher bid prior to the hammer strike. Upon learning of the bid, he re-opened the auction. Plaintiff dropped out of the bidding soon thereafter, and later sued Christie’s to compel the sale of the art to him for $3 million.

The Court consulted both Christie’s auction rules and UCC 2-328, which provided that an auctioneer has the discretion to re-open a sale if a bid was made before the hammer struck. The Court also reviewed a video of the auction to verify the timing of the bid, and denied the preliminary injunction, finding that it is unlikely that plaintiff will ultimately succeed on the merits.