Porter v. Wertz – Case Brief Summary (New York)

In Porter v. Wertz, 68 AD2d 141, 416 N.Y.S.2d 254 (1st Dept 1979) aff'd 53 NY2d 696, 421 N.E.2d 500, 439 N.Y.S.2d 105 (1981), an art dealer purchased a painting from a certain individual without making any inquiries as to whether the seller owned the painting in question or was even an art dealer (id. at 146).

As it turned out, the seller was not an art dealer, but rather a delicatessen employee who, unbeknownst to the purchaser, was acting on behalf of another art dealer, who had no authority to sell the painting in question (id. at 145-46).

Stating that " reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing in the trade' . . . should not--and cannot--be interpreted to permit, countenance or condone commercial standards of sharp trade practice or indifference as to the . . . right to possess or sell an object d'art," the Appellate Division held that in light of the purchaser's failure to take even the most basic steps to verify the seller's right to possession, the purchaser was not a "buyer in the ordinary course of business" under the UCC (id. 145-46).

The claim that such willful ignorance was apparently the industry standard made little difference to the court, which found that "commercial indifference to ownership or the right to sell facilitates traffic in stolen works of art" (id. at 149).

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed on the ground that the entrustment provisions of UCC 2-403 [2] did not apply, as the seller was a deli worker, not an art dealer (Porter, 53 NY2d at 700). It declined to reach the question of whether the purchaser acted in good faith (id. at 701).