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Judge Denies Brazil's Demand to Dismiss Lawsuit Over Giant Emerald

At Greene Broillet & Wheeler, our seasoned team of professionals have over 100 years of combined legal experience handling complex legal matters.

Greene Broillet & Wheeler Successfully Battles for Ownership of the Bahia Emerald

The Bahia Emerald, weighing in at 840 pounds and worth an estimated $372 million, is considered the biggest uncut emerald ever unearthed. The gemstone has had a long and dramatic journey since it first surfaced in a Brazilian mine in 2001. The odyssey of the Bahia Emerald has gone from an abandoned gas station in San Jose to a bank vault submerged underwater after Hurricane Katrina.

The Bahia’s colorful past only adds to its appeal. “It has a huge magic and luster to it in terms of its background. And whoever gets this and they saw this as a wise investment, they’re going to have a very, very rare piece to display and to enjoy,” said Greene. The LA County Sheriff’s Department has maintained possession of the Bahia Emerald with the expectation that it will be released at the conclusion of the civil trial. In the National Geographic Special, “The 400 Million Dollar Emerald,” researchers and experts follow the Bahia Emerald from the mines of Brazil’s Bahia Region. Considered a renowned lawsuit in California history, this case has gained an international following.

Press: Judge Denies Brazil’s Demand to Dismiss Lawsuit Over Giant Emerald

LOS ANGELES, CA — A lawsuit to determine ownership of the world’s largest emerald will proceed despite the objections of Brazil, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled today.

Judge Michael Johnson denied Brazil’s motion to dismiss a contentious, five-year-long lawsuit over the Bahia Emerald’s ownership. Brazil argued the emerald was the country’s property, alleging it was illegally mined and exported to the United States. Declaring the stone a ‘national treasure,’ Brazil’s attorneys asked that the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit over ownership be dismissed so the emerald could be repatriated to Brazil.

But attorneys for U.S. claimants, Kit Morrison, Todd Armstrong, Jerry Ferrara, Market Link, Inc. and FM Holdings, Inc. (The Morrison Group) argued that Brazil’s motion was extremely prejudicial and unfair to The Morrison Group and that Brazil’s claim was “frivolous” because it legally cannot pursue its action in a California Superior court due to Brazil’s failure to timely file a claim.

Today’s dismissal of Brazil’s motion clears the way for The Morrison Group to be declared the lawful owner of the Bahia Emerald at a future court hearing.

The tumultuous court battle in Los Angeles Superior Court that has dragged on for more than five years entered a new phase in January 2015, when attorneys for Brazil claimed that mining was not authorized in 2001, where the Bahia Emerald was mined.

The Morrison Group claims there’s extensive documentation that shows the Brazilian government has authorized mining activities in the Bahia region since the late 1970’s.

“My clients are American citizens who paid out of pocket for the stone and now a foreign government is trying to take their property, for which they paid a substantial sum of money,” said Spielberger. “That’s inconsistent with our constitution and the bureaucrats of Brazil are trying to evade having to prove their claim in our Superior Court and just take the rock,” said Spielberger.

The Bahia Emerald, weighing in at 840 pounds and worth an estimated $372 million, is considered the biggest uncut emerald ever unearthed. The ongoing legal fight that involved two trials and multiple parties was close to a resolution before Brazil decided to join the fight.

The gemstone has had a long and dramatic journey since it first surfaced in a Brazilian mine in 2001. Renata Joias e Embalagens Ltda. discovered the Bahia Emerald in Brazil and registered it with the Brazilian Government. On August 31, 2004, an Assignment & Bill of Sale was made from Renata Joias e Embalagens Ltda. to Gemworks Mining, Inc. (Panama).

In 2008, Kit Morrison, Todd Armstrong, Jerry Ferrara and their companies Market Link, Inc. and FM Holdings, Inc. paid seven-figures to obtain valid legal title to the Bahia Emerald. Apparently experiencing “seller’s remorse”, the seller tried to back out of the purchase agreement and filed a complaint with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The Sheriff’s Department contacted Kit Morrison who voluntarily handed over the Bahia Emerald to the Sheriff’s Department after showing the authorities his purchase agreement and the change of title given to him. The LA County Sheriff’s Department has maintained possession of the Bahia Emerald with the expectation it will be released at the conclusion of the civil trial.

Browne Greene of Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP and Daniel K. Balaban and Andrew J. Spielberger with the law firm of Balaban & Spielberger, LLP represent Respondents Kit Morrison, Todd Armstrong, Jerry Ferrara, FM Holdings, Inc. and Market Link, Inc.

  • Best Law Firms by US News
    Best Law Firms by US News

    Named in U.S. News - Best Lawyers® "Best Law Firms,” Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP ranks as Tier 1 Personal Injury and Product Liability firm in Los Angeles.

  • Super Lawyers®
    Super Lawyers®

    Our firm has more attorneys on the Super Lawyers® and Rising Stars lists than any other law firm in Southern California, with 15 members selected.

  • American Board of Trial Advocates
    American Board of Trial Advocates

    Several of our partners are members in the American Board of Trial Advocates, a national invite-only association consisting of the most experienced trial lawyers.

  • The Inner Circle of Advocates
    The Inner Circle of Advocates

    Founding partners Browne Greene and Bruce A. Broillet are both members of the exclusive invite-only Inner Circle of Advocates, as two of the top 100 plaintiff trial lawyers in America.

  • LACBA
    LACBA

    All of our attorneys are proud to be active members of the Los Angeles County Bar Association or LACBA.

  • Consumer Attorneys of California
    Consumer Attorneys of California

    Many firm members have been honored by the Consumer Attorneys of California, including Browne Greene, Christine Spagnoli, and Bruce Broillet, recipients of the Marvin E. Lewis Award. In addition, attorneys Bruce Broillet, Scott Carr, Molly McKibben, and Tobin Lanzetta has been honored with the Consumer Attorney of the Year Award.

  • International Society of Barristers
    International Society of Barristers

    Our team includes several Fellows and Associates with the invite-only International Society of Barristers in recognition of their trial advocacy.

  • International Academy of Trial Lawyers
    International Academy of Trial Lawyers

    Bruce A. Broillet and Christine D. Spagnoli are Fellows with the invite-only International Academy of Trial Lawyers, a group of elite trial lawyers from over 30 countries.

  • CAALA
    CAALA

    Several partners are active members in the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, with attorneys Browne Greene, Bruce Broillet, and Christine Spagnoli named “Trial Lawyer of the Year."

  • WLALA
    WLALA

    Firm partners Christine D. Spagnoli and Molly McKibben have both been honored by the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and are active members.

  • America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators
    America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators

    As a member of America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators®, founding partner Bruce Broillet joins a select group of California lawyers. Only 0.5% of active attorneys in the United States receive this honor.

  • American College of Trial Lawyers
    American College of Trial Lawyers

    A preeminent trial lawyers’ organization in North America, the American College of Trial Lawyers have elected firm partners Bruce Broillet, Mark Quigley, and Geoffrey Wells as Fellows.

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