February 2006 Archives

Photo of Hasidic Man Deemed Art

February 22, 2006

Defendant, a photographer, took a photo of a Hasidic Jew walking on the streets of New York City, without permission. This photo was included in an advertised and well-publicized exhibit open to the public, and some of the publications and reviews of the exhibit included a copy of this photo. In addition, a few copies of the picture were sold for amounts between $20,000 and $30,000. The subject of the picture sued the photographer for violating civil rights laws which bar the unauthorized use of another's likeness in a commercial venture. He alleged also that this photo violated his religious beliefs. In addition to finding that plaintiff's time to sue had expired, the court agreed with the photographer that the civil rights laws at issues were applicable only to bar an unauthorized use in connection with advertising and/or trade. Because the photos were art and not advertising or trade they were therefore excluded from these laws. The court held also that the photo was protected free speech even though significant sales were made, noting that the fact that profits were earned did not defeat the defense of free speech.

Inactivity of Trust Managers Deemed Negligence

February 6, 2006

A will which directed that a trust be created at the donor's death, released the trustee from losses resulting from the trustee's failure to diversify the trust investments (which were heavily concentrated at the time the trust was created in the stock of one company). The trustee was, however, directed to sell the investments for compelling reasons. The court, using its own analysis, found that the trustee's failure to sell the stock of that one company as the value declined by more than 17% over a specific period, coupled with the fact that the trust's investments returned less than half of the Standard and Poor's index, was negligent and refused to dismiss a lawsuit seeking recovery based on that negligence. (7/04) Update. In February 2006, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, unanimously reversed the lower Surrogate's Court finding and held that the trustee committed no wrong in failing to sell the stock at issue. The court agreed with the Surrogate in finding that the heirs objecting to the trustees conduct did not establish a basis for recovery based on the allegations in the petition, but did not agree that the Surrogate could, on its own and absent allegations by the heirs, determine that the trustee was negligent. The Appellate Division objected to the Surrogate's decision as being based on hindsight and found that holding the stock was not a bad decision, based on impartial investment information. (2/06)

Director of Non-Profit Improperly Removed

February 6, 2006

Director of a non-profit challenged his removal by the remaining board members because his removal was not voted upon at a special meeting called for the specific purpose of removal, as required by the non-profit's governing rules. The Board claimed that because the removal was voted upon at a regular meeting, and because regular meetings addressed all issues relevant to the non-profit, the Director had sufficient notice and a special meeting was unnecessary. The court held that the failure to provide the Director an opportunity to defend himself in advance of the meeting, a right afforded a board member under the law, defeated the Board's argument and the Director's removal was invalid.