WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived a lawsuit by an artist who says he is owed nearly $12.6 million for 29 sculptures he designed for the Saudi royal family.
Elli Bern Angellino, who filed his suit without being represented by a lawyer, says 16 members of the Saudi royal family asked him to produce the art pieces in 2006 and 2007.
The sculptures were custom-made in Switzerland at the Family Studio of Angellino Arte in Lugano, delivered to Angellino in New York City and shipped to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Angellino says members of the Saudi family personally signed for the shipments.
Angellino made numerous attempts to collect payment by sending invoices to the defendants and to the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Finally, he sued, but a federal court dismissed his case.
In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the lower court abused its discretion in dismissing Angellino's complaint.
Angellino attempted to notify the defendants of the allegations by mailing his lawsuit to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, where officials refused to accept delivery. Angellino filed forms with the court saying that he had always communicated with the embassy on the project and that he believed he was required to use the same notification procedure when he sued.
More than a year passed and the case was sent to a different judge, who dismissed it after concluding that Angellino had failed to satisfy the notification requirement.
People who file lawsuits without being represented by a lawyer "are allowed more latitude" when it comes to correcting defects in notifying defendants, Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson wrote in the majority opinion.
The appeals court said Angellino had engaged in "dogged – albeit inadequate attempts" to notify the defendants and that the district court failed to provide instructions that were understandable to someone in Angellino's circumstances. Henderson pointed out that there are other ways to notify the defendants. They include notifying the ministry of foreign affairs in the foreign country involved or, failing that, by notifying the director of special consular services in the State Department.
In dissent, Judge Brett Kavanaugh said that the two federal judges who had handled the lawsuit – Emmet Sullivan and James Boasberg – gave Angellino "ample opportunity" to pursue the case.
After Angellino's first attempt to deliver it failed, the judges twice warned Angellino that his suit would be dismissed if he did not give proper notice to the defendants, Kavanaugh wrote.
Henderson was joined by Judge Judith Rogers in the majority.