New Mexico Billionaire sues Santa Fe gallery over painting

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) -- State District Judge Raymond Ortiz has scheduled a hearing Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by the co-founder of Gateway computer company against a Santa Fe art dealer.

Billionaire Norman Waitt charged in a lawsuit filed last July that a painting he bought from art dealer Gerald Peters is worth only a sixth of what he paid, and that Peters won't take it back.

The complaint accuses Peters of reneging on an unwritten agreement through which Waitt would take paintings home and after "living with" them, exchange them if he wished for another work of equivalent value.

Waitt alleges breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith, breach of express warranty, unfair trade practices and negligent misrepresentation.

Peters said the facts will demonstrate the gallery acted properly.

His attorneys have proposed that Ortiz dismiss the case.

According to documents in the lawsuit, Waitt became interested in American Western and Southwestern art in 1996 and bought more than 50 works from the Gerald Peters Gallery over the next 12 years.

The lawsuit centers around Waitt's February 2008 purchase of a work by Samuel Seymour, an early 19th century artist who was one of the first whites to depict American Indians. Neither side in the dispute has described the painting.

Waitt alleged Peters told him the painting was worth at least $1.2 million. Waitt said he relied on that assessment when he purchased the painting but later learned it's worth no more than $200,000. When Waitt tried to return the painting in August or September 2008, Peters refused to take it back or exchange it, the complaint said.

In one of Peters' responses in court, he denies ever saying the painting was worth $1.2 million. Peters said he's seen only seen two of Seymour's oils become available and believes Waitt paid a fair market price.

A Jan. 25 response by Peters' lawyers calls Waitt's claim the work was worth only $200,000 "simply preposterous." The response says Waitt had "his art assistant" along when he bought the painting, has used extensive interrogatories in the case as "a fishing expedition" and "has been unreasonable and has refused to settle this matter."

The response says Waitt originally sued Peters in New York state court in 2009. The case was removed to U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, then dismissed in early 2010 for a "lack of personal jurisdiction."

Waitt sued Peters in April 2010 in Santa Fe. The complaint against Peters, his gallery, Edward C. Jalbert and Ned Jalbert Interior Design Inc. of Westborough, Mass., was dismissed Sept. 3 by state District Judge Barbara Vigil due to inactivity.

Peters noted Waitt's previous lawsuits in a written statement to The New Mexican: "This will be the third court where Mr. Waitt has made these claims. Mr. Waitt has had three bites at the apple and it feels like harassment to me. In its most favorable light it is buyer's remorse, likely caused by the economic downturn."

Published: Tue, Mar 1, 2011

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