Rob Norris, owner of the Piano Mill in Rockland, Massachusetts is currently in possession of a grand piano once owned by Liberace. The instrument, studded with 200 pounds of rhinestones and used during Liberace’s performances at Radio City Music Hall, has an appraised value of $500,000.
The Gibson Foundation, Inc. (“Gibson”) has filed a lawsuit in Tennessee’s U.S. District Court seeking to take back possession of the piano. According to a recent opinion from that court, the facts alleged in the complaint are follows:
[S]ometime in 2011, the Piano Mill contacted [Gibson] and informed them that the Piano Mill desired to have a Baldwin Concert Grand Piano for symphony rentals and promotional opportunities. Because the Piano Mill was not in a position to purchase one for approximately$30,000, it proposed that, in exchange for Gibson loaning a Baldwin Concert Grand Piano, Piano Mill would restore, promote and store a piano. As it turns out, Gibson was looking to warehouse the Liberace piano in a place other than New York City so as to generate additional goodwill for the Baldwin brand through its display and promotion in a different venue.
Consequently, at some point in 2011, the parties reached an agreement, the substance of which is as central to this lawsuit as it is disputed. The [Gibson] insists the parties agreed that Gibson would loan the Liberace piano to Piano Mill for free in exchange for the Piano Mill picking the piano up from its New York location, doing any needed restoration, and housing and promoting the piano. Thus, according to the Foundation, there was an enforceable contract and bailment relationship between the parties. The Piano Mill claims it was told that it could keep the piano if it was successful in removing the piano from the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, yet, eight years later, it finds itself sued in Nashville, Tennessee for conversion, breach of contract, and breach of bailment.
The Piano Mill contended that the Tennessee court lacked jurisdiction over the matter because neither the defendant nor the piano are in that state. Additionally, none of the business dealings between the parties took place in Tennessee.
The court agreed with Piano Mill and ordered the matter to be transferred to U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.