Heritage Auctions is Being Sued by Mongolia -- Yes, the Country -- Over the Sale of a Dinosaur

Categories: Legal Battles

TyrannosaurusBataar.jpeg
Heritage Auctions
Mongolian officials claim this dinosaur may have been taken from their country illegally. Looks more Kazakh to me.
My 3-year-old son is crushed. Yesterday, his dad was about $1,052,480 shy of purchasing a 75 percent complete fossil skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus bataar, sold by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions. Or at least I would have been had I put in a bid.

It's just as well, though, because whoever purchased the 70-million-year-old specimen has been thrust into an international legal and paleontological shit storm that played out dramatically during yesterday's auction.

It started late last week, when the director of the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs, writing on behalf of Mongolia's president, called for the cancellation of Sunday's auction. The dinosaur, he wrote, actually belongs to his country.

From USA Today:

Based on our experience in the studying the collecting of Mongolian dinosaurs, and on the information provided by your company with other specimens to be auctioned this Sunday (May 20), we strongly suspect that the Tyrannosaurus specimen, as well as several others you intend to auction, came from Mongolia.

Mongolian law prohibits the export of fossil specimen did in fact come from Mongolia, we strongly urge you not to auction this speciment because it would then have been acquired and exported illegally.

Unmoved, Heritage went ahead and sold it to an anonymous bidder. Its president, Greg Rohan, told USA Today the specimens were brought to the States legally, though he declined to disclose exactly how or who the seller was.

Things hit the courts. Houston lawyer Robert Painter, acting on behalf of Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia, filed a lawsuit in Dallas County on Saturday morning, and got Dallas County District Judge Carlos Cortez to issue a temporary restraining order against Heritage.

"Unfortunately this came to my attention after 5 o'clock on Friday," Painter said. "I put together the pleadings overnight," and tracked down Cortez at his home.

After making sure Heritage would be served, Painter flew to New York to attend the auction, of which he provides a brief play-by-play.

When the dinosaur came up for bidding, the auctioneer read a statement to the effect that the completion of the sale would be contingent on the outcome of court proceedings.

Painter objected, saying Cortez's order blocked the auction of the skeleton altogether. He called Cortez's cell phone and asked the judge to explain the order to Rohan, but the Heritage president refused to take the phone, Painter said.

A Heritage attorney ended up talking to the judge, according to Painter, but the auction was already over. Painter said he has never seen anyone ignore a court order while the judge who issued it was on the cell phone explaining what he meant.

A Heritage spokesman hasn't yet returned my phone call, but in the press release on its website announcing the sale, Heritage accuses Painter of unlawfully trying to interrupt the auction.

"We respect the various opinions on the subject and wish to protect the legal rights of all parties involved," Rohan said in the release. "We have legal assurances from our reputable consignors that the specimen was obtained legally. As far as we know, the Mongolian government has not produced any evidence that the piece originated in its territory, but the final determination will be up to the American legal system."

The legal battle will at least allow Mongolian officials to figure out where the Tyrannosaur came from. A hearing is scheduled for June 1 in Dallas County. Painter plans to ask the judge for a contempt of court ruling against Rohan and Heritage.

And just so you don't think Rohan Painter simply has an axe to grind against Heritage, he bought a watch, hewn from a meteorite, while he waited to block the dinosaur sale.

"In fact, I'm wearing it now," Painter said. "It's a nice watch."

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7 comments
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Uugan
Uugan

Fucking thiefs and how can they get away with it?

So I'm gonna bring 1000 Americans as slaves into chin., but when in china-Mongolia border, I will bring cross them legally, thus they came to Mongolia legally and i can hide behind my theft.

And use those Americans to clean my shit

Gr8tful
Gr8tful

Rohan is heritage . You must mean to say painter has no axe to grind

Max from the Sandspit
Max from the Sandspit

I wonder if this shark is gonna bill Mongolia for the watch cuz you know damn well they picked up the tab for his excursion to NYC.

Uncle_Scrappy
Uncle_Scrappy

LEGAL QUESTION: Is a Texas Court TRO valid upon a sale in New York state. Seems to me you would need to get a New York state judge to recognize the order & issue a similar one for that state.

My contention is, since the sale took place in NEW YORK, your TRO isnt valid there. While the Judge may hold Heritage Auctions, Inc and its president, Greg Rohan in contempt. I think that as long as the item doesnt enter Texas, his ruling isnt applicable. Sounds like this will need to be bumped to Federal Court anyway since it involves another Nation.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

 No, since Heritage is domiciled in Texas and was duly served, the TRO relates to the actions of Heritage and Rohan, regardless where they be.  A NY court may refuse to recognize the injunction and permit the auction to proceed, but Heritage and Rohan will still be accountable to the Texas court.  Judges do not like parties purposefull violating TROs.

Uncle_Scrappy
Uncle_Scrappy

I agree with you. The company & President may be sanctioned (Fined etc) but that doesnt stop the Sale from being LEGAL in NY state. Still sounds like this needs to be in Federal court because of Crossing state lines.

GeologyDude
GeologyDude

Just jumping in here but is this a Federal court issue? The US does not have any heritage treaties with Mongolia like we do with China, otherwise the state department would have moved to seize it already. Seems like that is why it's currently a lawsuit and a civil court case. Please correct me if I'm wrong about what kind of court case it currently is. 

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