Dispute over ownership of Gaspar Cusachs art collection is sent back to district court

By Scott Holland | Apr 4, 2019

NEW ORLEANS — A legal dispute over a historical art collection is headed back to district court.

The Gaspar Cusachs Collection was on display at the New Orleans Museum of Art for more than a century. Cusachs, who was born in 1855 and died in 1929, established the Cusachs Family Collection LLC, which co-owned the artifacts with Elysian Inc.

In May 2015, the Neal Auction Co. and Philip Alford, its president and senior auctioneer, approached the collection and Elysian about selling items. In February 2016, the parties executed a written consignment agreement. That November, Cusachs’ descendants — John Booth Jr. and Celeste Lingle — filed a petition for injunctions and a temporary restraining order against Neal, collection manager Dan Storms, Elysian trustee David Lingle, Elysian, and an unnamed insurance company.

That action asked to have half the sale proceeds, less Neal’s take, held until a court could determine who was entitled to the money. After the auction, half the money went to the collection. Elysian sought a summary judgment to dismiss the entire suit, but before that could be heard it moved to dissolve the preliminary injunction so the held funds could be disbursed.

In June 2017, Orleans Parish District Court Judge Robin Giarusso granted the motion to dissolve, vacating the preliminary injunction, and denied the motion for summary judgment. That October, with the permanent injunction request pending, Elysian and the collection filed a new 14-count complaint against Neal. That suit was assigned to a different court division, but ultimately transferred to the same division as the injunction action. Giarusso declined to consolidate the two.

On Jan. 22, 2018, Giarusso signed Elysian’s proposed summary judgment dismissing the injunction suit with prejudice, On March 23, Giarusso granted Neal’s lis pendens exception, dismissing the 14-count complaint without prejudice. On May 22, Giarusso denied the Elysian and collection motion to file incidental demands in the injunction suit. They appealed that decision to the 4th Circuit Appeals Court, which issued an opinion March 20. Judges Roland Belsome, Joy Cossich Lobrano and Tiffany Chase heard arguments; Lobrano wrote the opinion.

Although the 14-count complaint was filed before the injunction suit was dismissed, Lobrano wrote, courts are allowed to consider the procedural and factual climate, not just the timing of judicial decisions.

“The injunction suit was not pending when the exception was granted by the district court and is not pending on appeal,” Lobrano wrote. “Thus, lis pendens does not apply. Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the district court granting Neal’s exception of lis pendens and remand the matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

Elysian and the Cusachs Family Collection are represented by Deutsch Kerrigan & Stiles of New Orleans.

Neal Auction and the other defendants are represented by Phelps Dunbar of New Orleans; and Samuel and Coleman of Metairie.

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