United States District Court, S.D. New York
Sam P. Israel, for Plaintiffs KENNETH KING and YIEN-KOO King.
Carolyn J. Shields, Ying Liu, for Defendants ANDREW WANG, SHOU-KUNG WANG, BAO WU TANG, and JIAN BAO GALLERY.
OPINION & ORDER
JOHN F. KEENAN, District Judge.
Before the Court is a motion by Andrew Wang ("A. Wang"), individually and doing business as Bao Wu Tang, and Shou-Kung Wang ("S.K. Wang"), individually and formerly doing business as the Jian Bao Gallery (hereinafter, the "Wang Defendants"), to dismiss the complaint filed by Plaintiffs Kenneth King ("K. King") and Yien-Koo King ("Y.K. King") pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendants' motion seeks dismissal on ten separate grounds, including (1) that Plaintiffs lack standing to recover for all of their claims, (2) that Plaintiffs' claims fall within the probate exception to federal jurisdiction, and (3) that Plaintiffs' have failed to properly allege a federal cause of action. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion is granted and the complaint is dismissed.
The following facts are taken from the allegations in the complaint and are accepted as true only for purposes of this motion to dismiss. This action concerns the estate of artist and collector, Chi-Chuan Wang ("C.C. Wang"). Plaintiff Y.K. King, a New York City resident, is the daughter of C.C. Wang. Together with her husband, Plaintiff K. King, Y.K. King brings this action to recover works of fine art formerly belonging to C.C. Wang's estate (the "Estate") or to Plaintiffs themselves.
Defendant S.K. Wang, a resident of Queens, New York, is the son of C.C. Wang. S.K. Wang is alleged to be the sole owner of Defendant Jian Bao Gallery, an art gallery conducting business in New York. Defendant A. Wang, a New York City resident, is the grandson of C.C. Wang and the son of Defendant S.K. Wang. A. Wang is alleged to be the sole owner of Defendant Bao Wu Tang, an art gallery conducting business in China. Defendant Anthony Chou ("Chou") is a resident of Beijing, China. Defendant Chen-Mei Lin ("Lin") is a resident of Shanghai, China. Defendant Wei Zheng ("Zheng") is a resident of Rego Park, New York. Defendant Ye Yong-Qing ("Qing") is a resident of Shanghai, China. Defendant Yue Da-Jin ("Jin") is a resident of Nanjing, China. The complaint also asserts claims against John Does 1-9, who are identified as natural persons serving as agents of the Wang Defendants. As of the date of this order, only Defendants A. Wang and S.K. Wang, individually and on behalf of their respective businesses, have appeared in this action, although a copy of the summons and complaint was purportedly served on Defendant Zheng on October 14, 2014.
C.C. Wang was a renowned Chinese-American artist and collector. (Compl. ¶ 22.) According to the complaint, he assembled a collection of over 400 fine and rare Chinese paintings, sculptures, and antiquities during his lifetime, which are allegedly valued at more than $60 million. (Id. ¶ 23.) This litigation-which principally pits C.C. Wang's daughter and son-in-law, Y.K. King and K. King, against his son and grandson, S.K. Wang and A. Wang-centers on the ownership and inheritance of C.C. Wang's collection following his death in 2003.
According to the complaint, Defendants' alleged misconduct began in the early 1980's, when S.K. Wang was working as his father's bookkeeper and assistant. (Id. ¶ 31.) During this time, Plaintiffs contend that S.K. Wang used his position to remove and embezzle approximately 160 paintings belonging to C.C. Wang. (Id.) As a result, S.K. Wang was allegedly fired by his father in 1997, after which time C.C. Wang turned over all business management responsibilities to Y.K King and K. King. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 31-32.) These responsibilities included overseeing CY Art Ltd., a company that had previously been established by Y.K. King for the purpose of facilitating the management of C.C. Wang's artwork and collection. (Id. ¶ 25.) According to the complaint, CY Art Ltd.'s assets included a safety deposit box used to store artwork belonging to both C.C. Wang and Y.K. King. (Id. ¶ 26.)
C.C. Wang's health began to fail in 2003, to the point that, in or about April 2003, his doctors reportedly determined that he lacked sufficient mental capacity to execute his own "Do Not Resuscitate" order. (Id. ¶ 27.) Thereafter, Plaintiffs assert that the Wang Defendants' secretly moved C.C. Wang to S.K. Wang's home in Queens, New York in order to prevent further contact between C.C. Wang and Y.K. King. (Id. ¶ 33.)
On January 31, 2003, Y.K. King allegedly took an inventory of the contents of the CY Art Ltd. safety deposit box and discovered that twenty-one paintings were missing, including ten works that were owned by corporations belonging to Plaintiffs. (Id. ¶¶ 34-36.) That same day, Y.K. King claims to have witnessed A. Wang and S.K. Wang leaving C.C. Wang's apartment building with two bags. Upon checking the apartment, Y.K. King found that another four paintings were missing, including three more works that were owned by corporations belonging to Plaintiffs (together with the ten works noted above, the "Personal Artwork"). (Id. ¶¶ 37-38.)
Thereafter, during a conversation on February 4, 2003, A. Wang reportedly admitted that he and S.K. Wang had taken all twenty-five missing paintings, but promised not to sell any of them if Y.K. King turned over the balance of the family's assets to them. (Id. ¶¶ 36, 40, 41.) Five of the missing paintings were later returned by A. Wang in May 2005. (Id. ¶ 41.)
C.C. Wang died on July 3, 2003. Following her father's death, Y.K. King submitted a will dated June 13, 2000, along with a July 10, 2002 codicil (together, the "2002 Will"), to the New York County Surrogate's Court. Under the 2002 Will, Y.K. King was named executor and a principle beneficiary. (Id. ¶ 45.) At approximately the same time, the Wang Defendants produced a second will allegedly executed by C.C. Wang on February 18, 2003 (the "2003 Will") while he was residing at S.K. Wang's home in Queens. The 2003 Will purports to disinherit Y.K. King and instead designates A. Wang as executor and names A. Wang, A. Wang's brother-Stephen Wang-and S.K. Wang as C.C. Wang's chief beneficiaries. (Id. ¶ 48.)
In July 2003, Y.K. King initiated a proceeding in the Surrogate's Court in order to challenge the legitimacy of the 2003 Will. (Id. ¶ 49.) On August 4, 2003, the Surrogate's Court issued temporary letters of administration to the Public Administrator and preliminary testamentary letters to A. Wang. (Id.) Thereafter, Plaintiffs allege that the Wang Defendants exploited A. Wang's preliminary status as executor of the Estate to illegally "wrest control" of the Estate's assets from Plaintiffs. (Id. ¶¶ 50-51.) Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the Wang Defendants used the Jin Bao and Bao Wu Tang galleries to orchestrate a scheme in which Estate assets were ostensibly sold to collectors in the Chinese art community. Plaintiffs contend that these ...