If Yale has to defend a lawsuit contesting its ownership of Inca artifacts, it would prefer to do so a little closer to campus than Washington, D.C.
Earlier this month, Yale’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Peru’s government in December, claiming that Peru filed suit in the wrong court. The United States District Court in Washington, Yale says, has no jurisdiction over the matter.
“None of Peru’s claims have any merit,” the motion reads. “But even if Peru’s claims had any merit … the District of Columbia would not be the right place to resolve them.”
Instead, because the artifacts — excavated from Machu Picchu early in the 20th century by Yale explorer Hiram Bingham III — reside at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, the University maintains that Peru must sue in Connecticut court.
William Cook, the lawyer who represents Peru in the suit, was not available for comment Sunday. Peru has until April 20 to respond to Yale’s motion.
This is not the first time that the question of jurisdiction has come up in the nearly century-long dispute over possession of the artifacts. When Yale and Peru signed a memorandum of understanding in September 2007, the document included language stipulating that legal challenges related to the objects would be adjudicated by the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut.
The memorandum, though, was never finalized as negotiations stalled last year and Peru ultimately initiated legal action.
In an interview last year, Terry Martin, a professor at Harvard Law School, called Peru’s initial agreement to let a Connecticut court hear the case a “victory for Yale.” At the time, the question facing Peru was whether to sue in Connecticut court or Peruvian court; Martin said Yale would be better off facing a legal challenge under familiar laws.
When talk of Peru suing Yale in a court in Cuzco, Peru, peaked last fall, University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said there was “no basis for jurisdiction” in Cuzco, adding, “Choosing to sue there is evidently a political decision.”
In its December suit, Peru said that the Washington court had jurisdiction over the claims because of the “diversity of citizenship” between Peru, a foreign state, and Yale, a Connecticut institution.