Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation

737 F.3d 613 (2013)

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Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
737 F.3d 613 (2013)

Facts

Fritz and Lilly Cassirer fled Germany in 1939 because of the Nuremberg laws and were forced to sell a valuable Camille Pissarro painting to a Nazi-appointed appraiser. The painting was sold and later purchased by Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation (foundation) (defendant), which was an agency of Spain (defendant), purchased Thyssen-Bornemisza’s collection and put the Pissarro painting on display in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. In 2005, Fritz and Lilly’s grandson and heir Claude Cassirer sued the foundation and Spain, seeking to recover the painting. To be timely, the suit relied on California Code of Civil Procedure § 354.3, which provided that the owner of Holocaust-era artwork could recover the work from a museum or gallery if the action was commenced by December 31, 2010. In 2009, the Ninth Circuit struck down § 354.3 as unconstitutional based on field preemption. Thereafter, the legislature enacted § 338(c)(3), which provided a six-year statute of limitations for an action against a museum to recover artwork unlawfully taken within 100 years before the subsection’s enactment. The limitations period began to run upon discovery of the work’s location and facts indicating the claimant’s possessory interest in the work and applied to pending and future actions commenced on or before December 31, 2017. Claude died in 2010, and his son and daughter and the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County were substituted as plaintiffs (collectively, the Cassirers) (plaintiffs). The Cassirers dismissed Spain as a defendant. For the claims to be timely, the Cassirers had to rely on § 338(c)(3). The court granted the foundation’s dismissal motion, concluding that § 338(c)(3) created a remedy for wartime injuries and was functionally equivalent to § 354.3 and therefore unconstitutional based on foreign-affairs field preemption, and the Cassirers’ claims were untimely under § 338(c)’s general three-year statute of limitations for recovery of personal property. The Cassirers appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Pregerson, J.)

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