A New York auction house has targeted Rosa Parks’ former lawyer, claiming that he mishandled her estate. According to the claim, the attorney caused the auction house millions in damages based on his alleged misrepresentations that Parks’ heirs had authorized the estate to proceed to auction. In particular, Parks’ reported $10 million estate included her Congressional Gold Medal and a postcard from Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead of proceeding to an individualized private auction as originally contemplated, the auction house alleges that the attorney’s gaff led to a lump sum sale of the estate to a non-profit organization which gifted the items to a museum.
According to the auction house, Parks’ former attorney misrepresented his ability to secure the assignment of Parks’ estate for auction. The heirs did not permit the estate to go to auction. Instead, pursuant to the heirs’ wishes, the estate was sold through a private sale to an individual buyer for $4.5 million with a planned donation of the items to a museum. The lawsuit claims that the attorney missed an opportunity to collect higher fees.
The lawsuit presents some noteworthy issues. As we’ve discussed in the past, professionals may be subject to suit from non-clients in certain circumstances. Often, a plaintiff may attempt to overcome the privity requirement through a claim of fraud or misrepresentation as is the case here. Moreover, it would appear that the heirs specifically requested that the estate be sold to a private buyer with an eye toward publically displaying the items in a museum. Accordingly, the plaintiff may have some significant obstacles to overcome.