Estate Sale Honcho Still Faces Claims of Theft
(CN) - A couple can amend claims that "the self-proclaimed king of estate sales" ripped them off while filming an episode for a TruTV program, a federal judge ruled.
Jay and Lowell Van Vechten, of Palm Beach, Fla., allegedly volunteered their upcoming estate sale as fodder for an episode of the TruTV reality show "Big Brian the Fortune Seller" in late 2010.
They agreed to allow the production company Atlas Media film the sale, which would be run by Brian Elenson and his company, 2MuchStuff4Me. TruTV touts Eleson on its website as "the self-proclaimed king of estate sales."
"Brian's larger-than-life personality and limitless energy are legendary among the antiquing, reselling and bargain-hunting circuits," his online bio states. "Dedicated solely to making his homeowner the most money possible, Brian yells, wheels and deals and busts chops to get sale after sale from big-time buyers and window shoppers alike."
The Van Vechtens say they signed a deal to collect 70 percent of the proceeds from the sale and that Elenson promised them a minimum of $250,000.
After putting up fine art and jewelry valued at $400,000, the Van Vechtens then allegedly followed orders to wait out the estate sale at a hotel.
The Van Vechtens said the sale did not go as advertised.
Elenson allegedly failed to keep sales records or receipts, and the Van Vechtens received just $53,318 in proceeds from the auction.
They then learned that several valuable items from their home had gone missing during the sale, according to the complaint.
They said they then received an "anonymous call" that Elenson had stolen their belongings and hid them in a warehouse.
On the day the show aired, the Van Vechtens allegedly noticed that many of their things sold for a fraction of their value. They also claimed that the show staged the sale of many items, which still remain in their home.
Elenson also allegedly said on the show that they made $192,628 in sales, but $53,000 does not represent 70 percent of that figure.
The Van Vechtens filed civil conversion and theft claims against Elenson, 2MuchStuff4Me Inc., Atlas Media Corp., Time Warner, Bruce David Klein, Turner Broadcasting System and TruTV, which they named as Courtroom Television Network.
Elenson moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the media groups moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, and 2MuchStuff4Me moved to dismiss because it is not named in any of the counts.
U.S. District Judge Robert Scola dismissed the negligent selection claims against most media defendants, leaving only the claim against Atlas Media intact.
Atlas may have been negligent in hiring Elenson, but the court warned that proving this claim could be difficult.
"Carrying out an estate sale of valuable art and jewelry may require special skill or competency, and it may involve a risk of harm to such property if not carefully done," Scola wrote. "Thus, Atlas Media had a duty to use reasonable care in view of all the circumstances in selecting Elenson. The precise degree of care required, and whether or not such care was exercised, are factual matters not suited for determination at this stage in the proceedings."
Scola also denied Elenson's claim to dismiss but dismissed the claims against 2MushStuff4Me after the Van Vechtens admitted to not naming it in the counts.
The Van Vechtens have until Feb. 8 to amend their complaint.