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Anonymous v. Anonymous

Supreme Court of New York, First Department

April 4, 2017

Anonymous, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Anonymous, Defendant-Appellant.

         Defendant appeals from the order of the Supreme Court, New York County (Ellen Gesmer, J.), entered October 19, 2015, which, to the extent appealed from as limited by the briefs, declared that art purchased in either party's sole name during the marriage, regardless of vendor, is that party's separate property pursuant to the terms of the prenuptial agreement, and from the order of the same court (Deborah A. Kaplan, J.), entered March 15, 2016, which, to the extent appealed from as limited by the briefs, upon reargument, modified the October 19, 2015 order only to the extent of ordering discovery and a hearing to determine ownership of works of art, including four specified works of art, purchased during the marriage for which the purchase invoice is on its face ambiguous or inconsistent.

          Cohen Clair Lans Greifer Thorpe & Rottenstreich LLP, New York (Bernard E. Clair Jad Greifer and Benjamin A. Lilien of counsel), for appellant.

          Alter Wolff & Foley LLP, New York (Alan Feighenbaum, Eleanor B. Alter and Adam John Wolff of counsel), for respondent.

          Rolando T. Acosta, J.P., Angela M. Mazzarelli, Sallie Manzanet-Daniels, Troy K. Webber, JJ.

          WEBBER, J.

         In this appeal we are called upon to rule on the appropriate method of determining ownership of valuable works of art in the parties' art collection.

         The parties were married on May 5, 1992. Plaintiff husband commenced the instant matrimonial action on May 6, 2014, claiming separate ownership of tens of millions of dollars' worth of art, while defendant wife claims the art was jointly owned. The wife also claims to separately own four specified works of art purportedly worth a total of approximately $22 million.

         The parties executed a prenuptial agreement on April 21, 1992. The prenuptial agreement does not specifically address how the parties should divide their art collection upon dissolution of the marriage. It provides that any property owned on the date of execution of the prenuptial agreement, April 21, 1992, or "hereafter... acquired" by one party remains that party's separate property. It provides that "[n]o contribution of either party to the care, maintenance, improvement, custody or repair of... [the other's party]... shall in any way alter or convert any of such property... to marital property."

         The prenuptial agreement further provides that "any property acquired after the date of the marriage that is jointly held in the names of both parties" shall, upon dissolution of the marriage - which occurred on March 25, 2014 - be divided equally between the parties. Under the heading, Non-Marital Property, the agreement provides:

         "No property hereafter acquired by the parties or by either of them... shall constitute marital property... unless (a) pursuant to a subscribed and acknowledged written agreement, the parties expressly designate said property as marital property... or (b) title to said property is jointly held in the names of both parties."

         During the marriage, the parties agreed to acquire certain art as a joint collection, including pieces acquired through Art Advisory Services, Luhring Augustine, and The Kitchen. The wife claims that all art acquired through those vendors was jointly held. The husband claims that there was no blanket agreement that all pieces from those vendors would be considered marital property. Rather, he states that he relied on the prenuptial agreement and purchased certain works solely in his name when he wanted them to remain his separate property.

         The husband moved, inter alia, for a declaratory judgment that, "consistent with the Prenuptial Agreement, the title to the art purchased during the marriage determines whether it is marital or separate property, regardless of the source of funds used to acquire it or the alleged intent behind the purchase." He argued that title should be determined based solely on the invoice or bill of sale.

         The motion court construed the prenuptial agreement to provide that any art purchased solely in one party's name remained that party's separate property (see Van Kipnis v Van Kipnis, 11 N.Y.3d 573, 577 [2008]; Strong v Dubin, 75 A.D.3d 66, 68-69 [1st Dept 2010]) and relied on the invoices as proof of whether the art was jointly or individually held. We conclude, to the contrary, that invoices, standing alone, may not be regarded as evidence of title or ownership of the art.

         An invoice is defined as "[a] list of goods sent or services provided, with a statement of the sum due for these" (Oxford Living Dictionaries ...


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