(CN) - The 92-year-old widow of a former baseball executive is suing an auction house over its refusal to return a valuable piece of baseball memorabilia unless it’s paid a “preposterous” commission, according to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court Wednesday.
Mary Elizabeth Fleig, the widow of former National League baseball executive Fred Fleig, alleges in a 9-page complaint that SCP Auctions is refusing to relinquish a document, known as the “Baseball Constitution,” which outlined business practices that remain the standard for the league today.
In Feb. 2017, SCP Auctions approached Fleig about potentially auctioning the constitution and reached an initial agreement with the family. In anticipation of the sale, SCP ran an online ad claiming the constitution would sell for more than Babe Ruth's New York Yankees uniform, which was reportedly auctioned for $4,400,000.
In May 2017, upon learning about the prospective auction, Rob Manfred, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball objected to the sale of the document, claiming MLB was the rightful owner, according to the complaint.
SCP removed the constitution from the auction but kept the advertisement on its website. MLB and the Fleig family later reached a settlement over their respective claims to the document.
According to the complaint, SCP said it won’t return the constitution to the Fleig family “unless and until it is paid a preposterous 25 percent ‘commission’ that is not provided, permitted or justified” by an auction agreement, which only calls for 5 percent, that was settled on initially among the parties.
William Hochberg, an attorney for Fleig said in the complaint SCP’s demand is “outrageous” and “constitutes civil extortion,” since it never had any ownership interest in the document.
SCP said the commission would have been “earned” if the Fleig family had sold the prized document to one of the auction house’s private rather than public auctions.
The Fleigs would’ve faced a lawsuit from MLB had they sold the document, the complaint said.
Fred Fleig was an executive with the Cincinnati Reds who later became secretary and treasurer of the National League, before it merged into the Major League Baseball organization.
His widow claims the document, which is the 1876 National League Constitution of National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, came into his possession as a collectors’ item during his tenure.
Upon his retirement, the league shipped Fleig’s possessions to his home in Danville, California. When he passed away in 1979, National League President Chub Feeney offered Fleig’s family support in their grieving, including the right to claim ownership over any memorabilia in Fleig’s possession.
The claim of ownership of the constitution was transferred to Preston, a company owned by his son-in-law, Keith Nadel.
The lawsuit seeks the immediate return of the document along with unspecified damages.
SCP did not immediately respond to a call for comment.
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