Konowaloff v. Metropolitan Museum of Art

702 F.3d 140 (2012)

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Konowaloff v. Metropolitan Museum of Art

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
702 F.3d 140 (2012)

Facts

Ivan Morozov was an art collector and Russian national living in Moscow during World War I. In November 1917, the Bolshevik party seized power from the existing provisional government. The Bolsheviks began nationalizing property immediately after gaining power. The Bolsheviks called its regime the USSR, or Soviet Union, which the United States recognized in November 1933. In December 1918, the Bolsheviks decreed that Morozov’s art collection was state property and confiscated his collection. The decree by the Soviet government (i.e., the Bolsheviks) resulted in a deprivation of all of Morozov’s property rights in his art collection including the painting known as Portrait of Madame Cézanne (the painting). Ultimately, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the museum) (defendant) received the painting as a gift in 1960. The museum accepted and kept the painting. Notably, the current Russian government never repudiated the 1918 appropriation of Morozov’s collection. In 2002, Morozov’s great-grandson, Pierre Konowaloff (plaintiff) became the heir to Morozov’s collection. In 2008, Konowaloff learned that the painting had belonged to Morozov. In 2010, Konowaloff demanded that the museum give him the painting, but the museum refused. Subsequently, Konowaloff brought an action against the museum for the painting’s recovery. The museum moved to dismiss the action as barred by the act-of-state doctrine, which the district court granted. Konowaloff appealed, arguing that the doctrine was inapplicable because the confiscation of the painting was an act of party, not an act of state, or because the Soviet government no longer existed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Kearse, J.)

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