Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Gibson Dunn assessed $9.9 million punitive damages award

Wow. The Montana Supreme Court upheld a trial court's award of $9.9 million in punitive damages and $1.1 million in compensatory damages against Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The fact pattern is interesting: an art collector purchased a painting supposedly painted by C.M. Russell, "well-known painter of scenes from the American West." However, Steve Seltzer, a Montana painter, opined that the painting was actually done by Seltzer's grandfather, Olaf. Gibson Dunn represented the art collector, suing Seltzer for fraud, because with this cloud on the painting's authenticity, it was worth only a fraction of what the collector originally thought. Several experts agreed with Seltzer's analysis, and after the plaintiff dismissed his lawsuit, Seltzer sued Gibson Dunn for malicious prosecution and abuse of process. The Montana Supreme Court stated that "Gibson Dunn’s 'use of the judicial system amounts to legal thuggery.'" Gibson Dunn plans to appeal and it's hard to see how that decision can survive.