Dutch court has jurisdiction in dispute against Italian art dealer over painting seized at TEFAF

Published on 22 October 2012 at 08:57

In its judgment on 11 October 2012,  the appellate court of Den Bosch, the Netherlands, held that the Dutch court has jurisdiction over a dispute concerning a painting, titled "Madonna della Candalabre" by Antonio Rosselino.


The painting was seized by the purported owner (a US corporation) whilst on exhibition at the 2010 edition of the TEFAF Art Fair in Maastricht (the Netherlands) by an Italian art dealer.


Brief overview

In March 2010, the Italian art dealer Alessandro Cesati exhibited a painting at the TEFAF Art Fair in Maastricht, The Netherlands. The American corporation Renaissance Art Investors LLC ("RAI") recognized the painting as the work "Madonna and Child", that it previously had consigned for sale to Salander O'Reilly Galleries LLC, in New York. RAI obtained a court order and seized the painting. RAI subsequently initiated proceedings before the Maastricht District Court in the Netherlands, on the grounds that RAI owns the painting, that Salander had no permission to sell the painting and that Cesati acted unlawfully by exhibiting the work at the TEFAF.


The issue arose as to whether the case could be brought before the Dutch court. The district court held that in view of the fact that Cesati is domiciled in Italy, the rules of the EU- Regulation nr. 44/2001 govern the issue of jurisdiction. The court held that, on the basis of these rules, the Dutch court has no jurisdiction in a case where the primary point of contention concerns who has ownership of a painting. Such a case under the principal rule of the EU-Regulation can only be brought before the courts for the place where the defendant is domiciled, i.c. before the Italian courts.


The fact that RAI (also) requested the court to rule on the issue as to whether Cesati committed an unlawful act by exhibiting the painting at the TEFAF in Maastricht, is of no importance. The district court in this respect held that a reasonable interpretation of the EU-Regulation entails that the court's jurisdiction is determined by the aforesaid primary point of contention (the ownership dispute), and that secondary points necessarily follow that determination. The court went on to hold that the objective of protecting the TEFAF's integrity and the Dutch legal order, did not warrant an exception to that rule.


On appeal, however, the appellate court of Den Bosch held that the district court had incorrectly interpreted EU- Regulation 44/2001. The appellate court held that an exception to the main rule of jurisdiction is in fact applicable, in view of the legal bases for the claim lodged by RAI, i.e. the claim that Cesati acted unlawfully in Maastricht. In those circumstances, a suit can also be brought before the courts where the purported unlawful acts occurred (Art. 5, para 3 of the EU-Regulation), i.e. the Maastricht district court.


The case was remanded to the district court Maastricht for further proceedings.


Commentary Oostwaard

The Appellate Court takes a narrow view of the legal bases of the claim, and determines the jurisdiction accordingly on the basis of the EU-Regulation.

The decision is correct. The claimant has surety as to which court it can address. The case also has a desired outcome: Maastricht is an international market place for art sales during the TEFAF. There is a clear interest for the local court to act when the integrity of that market place may be at stake. The ruling is reminiscent of the ruling of the New York appellate case in Bakalar v Vavra of 2010, in which the court explicitly held that New York has a significant interest in preventing the state from becoming a marketplace for stolen goods. Similarly, Maastricht's position as an international market place entails that disputes that arise in connection with the TEFAF must be able to be heard and decided in the Netherlands.


Link to the appellate court decision of 11 October 2012


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