Alcoholics Anonymous is demanding the return of its 1939 original manuscript describing the Twelve Step programme of recovery from addiction.
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services has sued an Alabama man, Ken Roberts, who owns the manuscript, a New York art gallery and a California auction house in New York state court.
The manuscript is to be sold on June 8 at auction. The lawsuit said the manuscript was gifted to a man who left instructions for it to be given to Alcoholics Anonymous upon his death. But it never was.
Now, it is being advertised by Profiles in History, which plans to auction it in two weeks.
Aron Gerson, a spokesman for the Los Angeles-area auction house, declined to comment. A man who answered the phone at QuestRoyal Fine Art in Manhattan, where the manuscript was displayed over the weekend, said he could not comment.
On a web page devoted to the auction, Profiles in History described it as "The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous" and "The Bible to Millions," saying its 161 typed pages included handwritten edits by AA founders, including William Griffith Wilson, also known as Bill W.
It said it had sold 30 million copies since 1939, been translated into 43 languages and has been ranked by the Library of Congress as a top non-fiction book that shaped America.
The auction house estimated it will sell for between $2m and $3m.
The lawsuit said the original working draft copy of the manuscript is "an original, historical document of unique importance".
It said it "indisputably belongs" to Alcoholics Anonymous after Barry Leach, who received it from Mr Wilson's widow, signed a letter in April 1979 saying it would belong to the organisation upon his death. He died in 1985.
The lawsuit blamed "either extreme negligence or potentially wrongful actions" around the time of Mr Leach's death for it never reaching Alcoholics Anonymous.
As a result, it said, the manuscript was sold at auction in June 2004 at Sotheby's to William A Shenk for $1.57m.
The lawsuit said Mr Roberts bought it at a Sotheby's auction in 2007 for $850,000 at a time when Alcoholics Anonymous was not aware of Mr Leach's letter.
The lawsuit said Mr Roberts informed Alcoholics Anonymous on April 7 that he planned to sell the manuscript on June 8.