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Austria v. Altmann

United States Supreme Court
541 U.S. 677 (2004)


Facts

In 1998, an Austrian journalist was granted access to the archives of the Austrian Gallery (Gallery) (defendant). The journalist realized that some valuable pieces of art had not been donated by their owners to the Gallery but had been seized by Nazis or Austria (defendant) following World War II. The journalist provided this evidence to Altmann (plaintiff), who believed her uncle had had several of his pieces wrongfully seized in Vienna. Altmann brought suit in federal district court against Austria and the Gallery claiming that she had received title to the art through her uncle. The defendants moved to dismiss the case on the ground that they were protected by sovereign immunity. The district court denied the motion to dismiss and the court of appeals affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) applied retroactively to acts occurring before its enactment in 1976 and before the United States adopted the “restrictive theory” of sovereign immunity in 1952.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Stevens, J.)

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  • A “yes” or “no” answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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