Battle for the Empire State Building

One of the world’s most iconic structures, the Empire State Building has always been a symbol of outsized ambition. In the 1990s the landmark skyscraper was the focus of an epic battle for control that spanned the globe, and Ray Hannigan was at the center of that battle, which was chronicled on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and in Mitchell Pacelle's award winning book: Empire; A Tale Of Obsession, Betrayal And The Battle For An American Icon (John Wiley & Sons 2001).

Among the combatants were Donald Trump and Japanese billionaire Hideki Yokoi, a passionate real estate investor and one of Japan’s most controversial business tycoons. In 1991, after various false starts, Yokoi was able finally to obtain fee title to the Empire State Building from Prudential Insurance Company.

Despite gaining his prize, Yokoi later faced an unexpected obstacle. His own daughter, Kiiko Nakahara, claimed that Yokoi had somehow verbally bestowed ownership of the skyscraper – and several other properties around the world – to her as a gift. Thereafter, Nakahara entered into a secret deal with the Trump Organization, ultimately deeding the property to a joint venture Nakahara had formed with the celebrated developer.

In failing health, but undaunted, Yokoi and his company reached out to Ray because of his reputation for handling thorny litigation matters and real estate transactions. Ray helped Yokoi bring suit against Nakahara, her husband, and Trump, asserting that the couple had improperly taken over ownership and control of the Empire State building as well as nine chateaux in France, various castles in the United Kingdom, and other important properties worldwide. Ray’s work on the case – Nihon Sangyo Kabushiki Kaisha v. Nakahara – was the subject of massive media coverage.

Ultimately, after years of litigation, negotiating and maneuvering, Ray and a team of Herrick lawyers were able to settle the case. Ray and this Herrick team also wound up representing the Trump Organization in the historic 2002 sale of the Empire State Building to a group led by Peter Malkin. Indeed, that transaction was historic: for the first time since 1961, the skyscraper’s fee estate and leasehold estate were owned by the same group, headed by Peter Malkin.