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One of the unsuccessful law firms, Cohen Milstein Hausfeld and Toll, now have a lawyer preparing a case to be heard in the British courts, the New York Times reported last week.

A Federal Court in Manhattan heard Judge Kaplan, who presided over last autumn’s $512m settlement proposal for the civil and criminal charges against the two auction houses, dismiss these latest multi-million pound lawsuits on the grounds that US anti-trust laws could not have jurisdiction over auctions held outside the US. “Unless the court is to impute to Congress an intention to establish an anti-trust regime to cover the world, the answer must be no,” he ruled.

The judge’s decision was welcomed by Sotheby’s and Christie’s. “We have said all along that it was inappropriate for this lawsuit to be filed in the US courts and we are very pleased that this case has been dismissed,” said a Sotheby’s spokesman. Christie’s issued a written statement saying “...the court’s decision brings us closer to the day when we can put this matter behind us.”

That opinion was countered by Paul Gallagher, the partner of Cohen Milstein who is drawing up plans for legal action in Britain. “This decision only increases the likelihood that both Christie’s and Sotheby’s will have to address legal claims outside the United States, most particularly the UK,” he said. However, it is unclear to what extent a similar case in England would be compromised by the terms of the US settlement, yet to be approved.

Judge Kaplan was due to consider any objections from class action members to the proposed $512m settlement with Sotheby and Christie’s at a court hearing last Friday.

The proposed terms have buyers receiving five per cent of any purchase up to $50,000 and a flat $2500 per item thereafter, but objections to the deal are expected from class action members such as the J. Paul Getty Trust, who have spent millions of dollars at auctions in London and feel that the settlement discriminates against purchases above the $50,000 mark.