Laws/Litigation

RETAILER WINS SUIT FOR RIGHT TO HOLD LIEN

A civil court in Hawaii ruled in April that a jeweler who sued a customer to gain overdue payment for a large-scale estate appraisal is within the law to hold the jewelry until the bill is paid.

Circuit Court Judge Gail Nakatani said the plaintiff, Carats & Karats Fine Jewelry of Honolulu, has the right to “possessory lien” on the jewelry until the defendant, Brian B. Dickinson et al, pays about $22,000. That includes $10,089 for appraisal work, $7,500 in legal fees and $2,334 in other costs.

At press time, Charles A. Price, the defendant’s attorney, said no decision had been made regarding an appeal.

Appraisal experts describe the case as precedent-setting because it involved a retailer suing a customer and affirmed a retailer’s right to hold merchandise until a customer pays a bill.

The case involves about 800 items the customer left with the retailer in 1994 for appraisal for estate probate purposes. The customer posted a nominal deposit and agreed orally to pay stated per-item charges plus an additional charge on items with stones exceeding 1 ct. Brenda Reichel, the store’s appraiser, started the project by cleaning and appraising 335 items that had been placed in 160 job envelopes signed by Dickinson.

A month after the work began, a dispute regarding estate ownership prompted Dickinson to ask Reichel to return the items and bill him for the work already completed. Reichel returned the pieces she hadn’t yet worked on and billed Dickinson about $30,000 for the work she had completed. The dispute regarding estate ownership continued, and Dickinson refused to pay the bill. Reichel refused to return the items she had worked on and sued for the amount billed.

Dickinson countersued, charging conversion and unfair and deceptive trade practices. His complaint was denied in court, and Reichel was awarded possessory lien on the items. Reichel and her attorney, Mark Shklov, tried to arbitrate the case, but Dickinson refused.

Judge Nakatani dismissed all of Dickinson’s counterclaims, saying the jeweler’s actions were “a reasonable business response to the situation presented by the defendants.” The judge rejected Dickinson’s charges that the store violated the state’s deceptive trade practice laws, noting the purpose of the law is to “protect innocent consumers, not to facilitate the non-payment of just debts or the obstruction of proper possessory liens.”

In the end, the judge decided 113 of the 335 items should be returned and not included on the bill. Of the remaining 222 items, the judge said Reichel should be paid for the work she did on 169. The judge said the remaining 53 appraisals were improper and should not have been included on the bill because the insurance values on the job envelope were less than the actual appraised values.

DEALER, CARTIER SETTLE

A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit that Fred Feldmesser, a gem dealer in Cambridge, Mass., filed against Cartier Inc. Terms of the settlement won’t be made public, said Andrew Fischer, attorney for Feldmesser.

Feldmesser said the table of a 4.76-ct. sapphire in a ring he left on consignment at Cartier for two years was abraded by mishandling. Cartier denied the charge. The suit asked for $105,000 in damages plus legal costs.