Koch’s Jefferson case too late, court rules
Billionaire wine collector William Koch lost his bid to reinstate a lawsuit against Christie’s that claimed the auction house “induced” him to buy counterfeit wine.
The US Court of Appeals in Manhattan yesterday upheld a 2011 ruling by US district judge Barbara Jones dismissing Koch’s suit after finding that he waited too long to sue, agreeing that the statute of limitations had expired.
“For wine, timing is critical, the same is true for causes of action,” said US district judge John Koeltl, who was sitting on the appeals court for the case.
“I’m very disappointed,” Koch said.
“The appeals judges dismissed the case for a technicality, although we know they got a lot of the facts wrong, but they’re the ones who decide what the facts are,” he added.
“Christie’s got away with an incredible hoax,” Brad Goldstein, a Koch spokesman, told Bloomberg.
Koch filed a lawsuit against Christie’s in Manhattan in 2010, claiming the London-based auction house had sold him counterfeit wine “for many years.”
Koch also said that Christie’s had “induced” him to buy four bottles of 1787 Château Lafite engraved “Th.J” that had purportedly belonged to American President Thomas Jefferson from German wine dealer Hardy Rodenstock in 1987 because Christie’s described the wines “positively” in auction catalogues during the 1980s.
The wines were allegedly discovered in the mid-‘80s when Rodenstock claimed to have found a cache in a bricked-up cellar in Paris.
Koch had the bottles tested in October 2000.
In dismissing the case last year, Jones said Koch knew the bottles were counterfeit and that he bought the wine out of a “desire to gather evidence against Christie’s.”
“Today’s court ruling was clearly correct; Koch’s claims turned to vinegar a long time ago,” Jonathan Lerner, a lawyer for Christie’s, told Bloomberg.
“The only hoax in this case was the allegation in the complaint that ‘no credible question’ had been raised about the wine until shortly before the complaint was filed,” he added.
Koch should have made inquiries about the wine by October 2000, when a report was issued about its authenticity, the court said. He filed his suit in 2010.
A historian at Monticello, Jefferson’s former home in Virginia, issued a report in December 1985 that determined “no solid connecting evidence could be found between Jefferson and the Th.J wine.”
While the report didn’t become public at the time, newspapers including the New York Times published articles saying there was “scholarly doubt” about the authenticity of the wine.
Koch has previously sued Rodenstock, and American auction houses Zachy’s and Acker Merrall & Condit for fraud.