Wei Su v. Sotheby's, Inc., 17-CV-4577 (VEC)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
Writing for the CourtVALERIE CAPRONI, United States District Judge
Citation490 F.Supp.3d 725
Decision Date29 September 2020
Docket Number17-CV-4577 (VEC)
Parties WEI SU and Hai Juan Wang, Plaintiffs, v. SOTHEBY'S, INC., Defendant. Sotheby's, Inc., Counter-Claimant, v. Wei Su, Hai Juan Wang, and Yeh Yao Hwang, Counterclaim-Defendants, Yeh Yao Hwang, Cross-Claimant, v. Wei Su and Hai Juan Wang, Cross-Defendants, Wei Su and Hai Juan Wang, Cross-Claimants, v. Yeh Yao Hwang, Cross-Defendant

490 F.Supp.3d 725

WEI SU and Hai Juan Wang, Plaintiffs,
v.
SOTHEBY'S, INC., Defendant.


Sotheby's, Inc., Counter-Claimant,
v.
Wei Su, Hai Juan Wang, and Yeh Yao Hwang, Counterclaim-Defendants,

Yeh Yao Hwang, Cross-Claimant,
v.
Wei Su and Hai Juan Wang, Cross-Defendants,

Wei Su and Hai Juan Wang, Cross-Claimants,
v.
Yeh Yao Hwang, Cross-Defendant,

17-CV-4577 (VEC)

United States District Court, S.D. New York.

Signed September 29, 2020


490 F.Supp.3d 727

Leo Lanie Clarke, Hampden, MA, Xuejie Wong, Xuejie Wong Attorney At Law, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs/Counterclaim-Defendants Wei Su, Haijuan Wang.

Hugh Hu Mo, Elizabeth Li Mo, Pedro Medina, Jr., The Law Firm of Hugh H. Mo, P.C., New York, NY, for Counterclaim-Defendant/Cross-Claimant/Cross-Defendant Yeo Hwang Yeh.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

VALERIE CAPRONI, United States District Judge:

490 F.Supp.3d 728

Two parties dispute the ownership of an ancient Chinese ritual wine vessel, the Zhou Zha Hu ("Vessel"), which is from the Middle Western Zhou Dynasty, around the 10th to 9th Century B.C. Am. Compl. (Dkt. 89) ¶ 9. Wei Su and Hai Juan Wang (Su's agent) (collectively "Su") and Yeh Yao Hwang ("Yeh") have both claimed ownership of the Vessel, which had been consigned by Su to Sotheby's for auction. See Sotheby's Answer and Counterclaim (Dkt. 101) at 9–11. Yeh has filed a cross-claim against Su for conversion. See Yeh Answer and Cross-Claims (Dkt. 104) at 7. Su filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that Yeh's conversion claim is time-barred by New York's three-year statute of limitations. See Su's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Dkt. 108). The Court denied Su's motion, concluding that a judgment on the pleadings was inappropriate as factual questions raised in the pleadings may be relevant to an equitable estoppel argument. See Order (Dkt. 149) at 9–10. Su then filed a motion for summary judgment, again contending that Yeh's conversion claim is time-barred and that no triable issues of material fact exist with respect to Yeh's estoppel argument. See Su Mem. of Law (Dkt. 156-2) at 2. For the reasons discussed below, Su's motion for summary judgement is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

In August 2014, Su, acting through his agent Wang, consigned the Vessel to Sotheby's for auction. See Sotheby's Answer and Counterclaim (Dkt. 101) at 11; Su Decl. (Dkt. 156-3) ¶ 5. On or about September 3, 2014, Yeh contacted Sotheby's to claim an ownership interest in the Vessel. See Sotheby's Answer and Counterclaim (Dkt. 101) at 12; Yeh Letter to Sotheby's (Dkt. 170-5). Sotheby's withdrew the Vessel from auction and retained possession pending determination of the Vessel's true owner. See Sotheby's Answer and Counterclaim (Dkt. 101) at 12-13; Su Decl. (Dkt. 156-3) ¶¶ 8–9.

On June 17, 2017, Su commenced an action against Sotheby's for breach of contract and replevin to regain possession of the Vessel. Compl. (Dkt. 1) at 1. Sotheby's counterclaimed with an interpleader action against Su and Yeh so that their conflicting ownership claims could be adjudicated. See Sotheby's Answer and Counterclaim (Dkt. 101) at 9–14. Sotheby's was later discharged as a disinterested stakeholder, although the Vessel remains in its possession for safekeeping. Order (Dkt. 112). After extensive efforts to effect service, Yeh eventually learned of the lawsuit and answered the interpleader complaint, asserted a conversion claim against Su, and sought a declaratory judgment about his co-ownership of the Vessel. See Yeh Answer and Cross-Claims (Dkt. 104) at 7–8.

According to Yeh, he has co-owned the Vessel since at least May 22, 2007, when the Shanghai High People's Court determined that Yeh and non-party Zhang Shenbao ("Zhang") were co-owners of the Vessel. See Yeh Decl. (Dkt. 170) ¶¶ 39–41; Shanghai High People's Court Ruling (Dkt. 170-3). Su, on the other hand, claims that he purchased the Vessel from Zhang in good faith in 2007 with no knowledge of Yeh's interest. Su Decl. (Dkt. 156-3) ¶ 4.

Su has moved for summary judgment on Yeh's conversion claim, arguing that the claim is time-barred under New York law.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the movant shows that there is no

490 F.Supp.3d 729

genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) ; see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial." Scott v. Harris , 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The Court must "construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant." Delaney v. Bank of Am. Corp. , 766 F.3d 163, 167 (2d Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (alterations omitted) (quoting Aulicino v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Homeless Servs. , 580 F.3d 73, 79-80 (2d Cir. 2009) ).

A. Accrual of Yeh's Conversion Claim

"Where jurisdiction rests upon diversity of citizenship, a federal court sitting in New York must apply the New York choice-of-law rules and statutes of limitations."1 Stuart v. Am. Cyanamid Co. , 158 F.3d 622, 626 (2d Cir. 1998). New York applies a three-year statute of limitations to conversion claims. N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214(3). Ordinarily, the three-year period runs from the date of the conversion. See Berman v. Goldsmith , 141 A.D.2d 487, 487, 529 N.Y.S.2d 115 (2d Dep't 1988) ; see also In re Rausman , 50 A.D.3d 909, 910, 855 N.Y.S.2d 263 (2d Dep't 2008). But when a good faith purchaser is involved, New York follows the demand and refusal rule, pursuant to which the statute of limitations runs from the time the true owner demands return of the property and the bona fide purchaser refuses to return it. See Solomon R. Guggenheim Found. v. Lubell , 77 N.Y.2d 311, 317–18, 567 N.Y.S.2d 623, 569 N.E.2d 426 (1991) ; Kamienska v. Westchester Cty. , 39 Misc.2d 750, 241 N.Y.S.2d 814, 818 (Co. Ct. 1963).

The parties dispute whether Su is a bona fide purchaser of the Vessel. If Su is a bona fide purchaser,2 then the statute of limitations would run from 2014, when Sotheby's told Su that Yeh claimed an ownership interest in the Vessel and Su rejected the claim. See Sotheby's Letter to Su (Dkt. 170-8) at 2. Under that scenario, to avoid being time-barred, Yeh would have had to file his conversion claim by 2017. On the other hand, if Su is not a bona fide purchaser,3 then the statute of limitations runs from the date of conversion, which in this case was when Su purchased the Vessel from Zhang in 2007.4

Regardless of whom is correct relative to the accrual date, Yeh filed his conversion

490 F.Supp.3d 730

action on May 24, 2019, Dkt. 104, which is beyond the statute of limitations under either scenario. Yeh argues, however, that the doctrine of equitable estoppel should prevent Su from asserting a statute of limitations defense. Because there are clear questions of fact whether Su is equitably estopped from asserting a statute of limitations defense, the motion for summary judgment must be denied.

B. Equitable Estoppel

"Equitable estoppel will preclude a defendant from using the statute of limitations as a defense where it is the defendant's affirmative wrongdoing which produced the long delay between the accrual of the cause of action and the institution of the legal proceeding." Putter v. North Shore Univ. Hosp. , 7 N.Y.3d 548, 552, 825 N.Y.S.2d 435, 858 N.E.2d 1140 (2006) (citations omitted); see also Abbas v. Dixon , 480 F.3d 636, 642 (2d Cir. 2007) (citations omitted) ("Under New York law, the doctrines of equitable tolling or equitable estoppel may be invoked to defeat a statute of limitations defense when the plaintiff was induced by fraud, misrepresentations or deception to refrain from filing a timely action.").

To prevail with an equitable estoppel argument, the plaintiff must articulate particular acts by the defendant that prevented the timely filing of an action. See Abbas , 480 F.3d at 642 ; see also Bielecki v. Bielecki , 106 A.D.3d 1454, 1455, 964 N.Y.S.2d 832 (4th Dep't 2013) (requiring "affirmative misrepresentations"); Duberstein v. Nat'l Med. Health Card Sys., Inc. , 37 A.D.3d 209, 829 N.Y.S.2d 95, 95 (1st Dep't 2007) (requiring "affirmative conduct"). Concealment that is either "careful" or "intentional" may satisfy this requirement. See Smith v. Cutson , 188 A.D.2d 1034, 1034, 591 N.Y.S.2d 674 (1992), abrogated on other grounds, Buran v. Coupal , 87 N.Y.2d 173, 638 N.Y.S.2d 405, 661 N.E.2d 978 (1995) (reversing a finding of equitable estoppel upon finding no evidence of "intentional concealment" by defendant); Gen. Stencils, Inc. v. Chiappa , 18 N.Y.2d 125, 128, 272 N.Y.S.2d 337, 219 N.E.2d 169 (1966) (finding equitable estoppel may apply to affirmative wrongdoing that is "carefully concealed").

Courts have found that a defendant may be...

To continue reading

Request your trial
6 practice notes
  • Golightly v. Uber Techs., 21-cv-3005 (LJL)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • August 11, 2021
    ...of the claim” and need not plead an affirmative defense. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007); see also Wei Su v. Sotheby's, Inc., 490 F.Supp.3d 725, 735 n.9 (S.D.N.Y. 2020) (“The pleading requirements in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure . . . do not compel a litigant to anticipate potent......
  • Dorce v. City of New York, 19-CV-2216 (JGK)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • June 24, 2022
    ...years, N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214(3), and the three-year period ordinarily runs from the date of the conversion. Wei Su v. Sotheby's, Inc., 490 F.Supp.3d 725, 729 (S.D.N.Y. 2020). The parties appear to agree that the same limitations period applies to the plaintiffs' unjust enrichment claim, and t......
  • Wei Su v. Sotheby's, Inc., 17-CV-4577 (VEC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • August 11, 2021
    ...of fact material to whether Su is equitably estopped from asserting a statute of limitations defense.[2] See Wei Su v. Sotheby's, Inc., 490 F.Supp.3d 725, 728 (S.D.N.Y. 2020). A defendant can be equitably estopped from asserting a statute of limitations defense if (1) the plaintiff shows th......
  • United States v. Saavedra (In re Saavedra), 20-10742-t13
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Tenth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of New Mexico
    • April 7, 2022
    ...the materials from the FCA Action trial that were made part of the record of this proceeding. See, e.g., Wei Su v. Sotheby's, Inc., 490 F.Supp.3d 725, 736 (S.D.N.Y. 2020) (under Rule 56(c)(3), the trial court has the discretion to consider uncited material in the record); Rivero v. Board of......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Golightly v. Uber Techs., 21-cv-3005 (LJL)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • August 11, 2021
    ...of the claim” and need not plead an affirmative defense. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007); see also Wei Su v. Sotheby's, Inc., 490 F.Supp.3d 725, 735 n.9 (S.D.N.Y. 2020) (“The pleading requirements in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure . . . do not compel a litigant to anticipate potent......
  • Dorce v. City of New York, 19-CV-2216 (JGK)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • June 24, 2022
    ...years, N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214(3), and the three-year period ordinarily runs from the date of the conversion. Wei Su v. Sotheby's, Inc., 490 F.Supp.3d 725, 729 (S.D.N.Y. 2020). The parties appear to agree that the same limitations period applies to the plaintiffs' unjust enrichment claim, and t......
  • Wei Su v. Sotheby's, Inc., 17-CV-4577 (VEC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • August 11, 2021
    ...of fact material to whether Su is equitably estopped from asserting a statute of limitations defense.[2] See Wei Su v. Sotheby's, Inc., 490 F.Supp.3d 725, 728 (S.D.N.Y. 2020). A defendant can be equitably estopped from asserting a statute of limitations defense if (1) the plaintiff shows th......
  • United States v. Saavedra (In re Saavedra), 20-10742-t13
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Tenth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of New Mexico
    • April 7, 2022
    ...the materials from the FCA Action trial that were made part of the record of this proceeding. See, e.g., Wei Su v. Sotheby's, Inc., 490 F.Supp.3d 725, 736 (S.D.N.Y. 2020) (under Rule 56(c)(3), the trial court has the discretion to consider uncited material in the record); Rivero v. Board of......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT