Metropolitan Museum Prevails in Appeal of Suit Over Admissions Policy

The 2013 dismissal of a lawsuit brought against the Metropolitan Museum of Art challenging its admissions policy has been affirmed by the Appellate Division, First Department, reports art law expert Nicholas O’Donnell on The Art Law Report.

The Met’s location on Fifth Avenue adjacent to Central Park was gained as part of an agreement with the city of New York and 19th-century statutes that stipulated the museum could remain there free of any rent obligations as long as it is open to the public free of charge on multiple days each week.

In their lawsuits, plaintiffs Theodore Grunewald and Patricia Nicholson, charged that signs in the museum and links on the web are misleading since they suggest an obligatory admission fee and that the museum has intentionally misled the public on this point. A second suit brought by another group of plaintiffs made near-identical claims.

The plaintiffs claimed to be “beneficiaries of the Met’s lease contract with the city of New York…The Supreme (trial) Court found that they are not.”

The remaining question related to whether the statute authorizing the arrangement allowed citizens to bring suit, in what is called “a private right of action.” The Appellate Division ruled that “clearly there is no express private right of action.”

O’Donnell says there are misrepresentation-based claims still pending “but our view has always been that those claims face even taller hurdles to survive.”

In an earlier post in October 2013, he pointed out that a New York Supreme Court judge had dismissed the claims filed against the Met over whether its admissions policy “was inconsistent with city law and the museum’s charter.” However, as he noted, the entire lawsuit was not dismissed, “another claim for misrepresentation,” was still alive at that point.

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