Christian K. Narkiewicz-Laine, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Kevin C. Doyle, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
April 5, 2019
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:ll-cv-1826 -
Frederick J. Kapala, Judge.
Flaum, Kanne, and Scudder, Circuit Judges
Scudder, Circuit Judge.
case arose from the destruction of personal property and
artwork belonging to Christian Narkiewicz-Laine, an artist.
Narkiewicz-Laine stored his artwork and other belongings in a
space in Galena, Illinois that he rented from the defendants.
Years into the lease, the defendants emptied the unit,
destroying the majority of Narkiewicz-Laine's property.
He responded by suing to recover for the loss of his
property. After a six-day trial, the jury awarded him damages
on multiple claims. Unsatisfied with his damages award,
Narkiewicz-Laine now appeals, challenging a number of the
district court's rulings made along the way. We affirm.
lease between Narkiewicz-Laine and the defendants, members of
the Doyle family and affiliated entities, began in 2004.
About six years later, the defendants cleared the rental
space and discarded the majority of his property, including
the only records he had listing the property stored in the
unit. Narkiewicz-Laine then brought this suit, pursuing
claims under an amendment to the Copyright Act known as the
Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, 17 U.S.C. § 106A, to
recover for the destruction of his artwork. For certain types
of visual art, the Act confers upon artists rights to
attribution and integrity- including, for particular
qualifying works, the right to prevent the work's
destruction. See Kelley v. Chicago Park Dist., 635
F.3d 290, 296 (7th Cir. 2011).
added common law claims for trespass, conversion, and
negligence under Illinois law. He based these latter claims
on a broader theory of recovery that would allow him to
obtain damages for all of his lost property-the entirety of
his destroyed artwork and other items of personal property.
case proceeded to trial. Narkiewicz-Laine testified on the
central issue of what property and art had been stored in the
rental unit. He did so by introducing a list of all the
artwork and personal property, explaining that he prepared
the inventory after learning of the destruction by checking
his personal records, contacting institutions where his work
had been exhibited, and attempting to obtain photographs of
his work from friends. The inventory listed 1, 457 pieces of
Narkiewicz-Laine's own artwork, items of personal
property, and artwork created by others that he had stored in
the rental unit. He asked the jury to award him $11 million
for his losses.
their part, the defendants presented evidence that
Narkiewicz-Laine had missed multiple rent payments and long
since stopped paying for the utilities for the property. The
defendants also underscored that, prior to emptying the
space, they saw nothing resembling art or valuable personal
property in the rental unit. The defendants took the position
that they disposed of junk, not art.
course of the trial, the defendants impeached
Narkiewicz-Laine with a prior conviction for lying to an FBI
agent. Prior to trial, the district court had denied
Narkiewicz-Laine's motion to exclude evidence of the
conviction, which was over ten years old.
jury returned a verdict in Narkiewicz-Laine's favor. It
found that the defendants had destroyed four pieces of
artwork protected under the Visual Artists Rights Act and
awarded $120, 000 in damages. But the jury did not award him
damages on the remainder of the works for which he had
claimed damages under the Act-some 1, 453 other pieces of
artwork. As for the common law claims, the jury decided in
Narkiewicz-Laine's favor and awarded $300, 000,
reflecting the loss of all the artwork and other belongings
stored at the unit.
the trial, the district court reduced Narkiewicz-Laine's
total damages award from $420, 000 to $300, 000 to avoid what
it saw as an improper double recovery. It determined that the
jury's award on the common law claims needed to be
reduced by the amount he recovered for the destruction of his
works protected under the Visual Artists Rights Act, as some
of the damages were duplicative. Even more specifically, the
court reasoned that the award for Narkiewicz-Laine's
common law claims-which compensated him for the loss of all
property and artwork that had been destroyed-necessarily
included the loss caused by the destruction of the subset of
his artwork protected under the Visual Artists Rights Act.
the district court concluded that Narkiewicz-Laine was not
entitled to attorneys' fees under the Copyright Act. The
court reasoned that, while he had won a damages award
covering some of the works, he also lost the majority of the
claims he brought under the Visual Artists Rights Act-his
claims covered 1, 457 protected works, but he prevailed only
as to four of those works. In the court's ...