Home New Legal Tune-up: Appeals Court Reinstates Suit Over Liberace’s Iconic Piano

Legal Tune-up: Appeals Court Reinstates Suit Over Liberace’s Iconic Piano

by Madonna

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has revived a legal battle over a piano once graced by the late entertainer Liberace. The court reinstated a bailment complaint brought by the alleged owner, the Gibson Foundation, against defendant Rob Norris, challenging a lower court’s ruling based on the statute of limitations.


The dispute centers around a piano owned by the Gibson Foundation, a Nashville-based nonprofit, which allegedly collected dust in a Manhattan ballroom in 2011. Rob Norris, owner of the Rockland music store, the Piano Mill, expressed interest in obtaining the instrument. The foundation agreed to let Norris transport the piano to his store, claiming it was a loan.

In response, the foundation filed a lawsuit, contending that the Piano Mill breached a warehousing agreement and bailment by refusing to return the piano upon request.

Legal Maneuvers:

A U.S. District Court judge initially ruled in favor of the defendants, citing the three-year statute of limitations for torts. However, the 1st Circuit, invoking the 2007 Aimtek, Inc. v. Norton Co. decision, applied a six-year statute of limitations to the bailment claim.

According to Judge David J. Barron, the breach-of-bailment claim stemmed from a consensual arrangement mutually benefiting both parties. The court rejected the defendants’ argument that the foundation didn’t own the piano at relevant times.

Legal Analysis:

Legal experts weighed in on the significance of the ruling. Jeffrey S. Robbins, a Boston civil litigator, praised the court’s rigorous analysis of bailment law and its implications for future cases in this niche area of the law.

Jonathan D. Plaut highlighted the case’s colorful backdrop but emphasized the importance of the ruling for practitioners. The decision underscores that a breach of bailment claim can be either tort-like or contract-like, dependent on the circumstances.

Michael J. Rossi emphasized the need for precision in documenting deals to avoid legal disputes. Despite dealing with sophisticated businesspeople and a valuable object, imprecision in documenting the transaction led to this courtroom drama.


The court’s decision not only resurrects a legal battle over Liberace’s piano but also provides crucial guidance on the statute of limitations in bailment cases. As legal experts dissect the ruling, the Gibson Foundation’s claim continues its legal crescendo, potentially setting precedent in this intricate area of the law.

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