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Kunstsammlungen zu Weimar v. Elicofon

United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York
536 F.Supp. 829 (1982)


Facts

The Kunstsammlungen museum (plaintiff), located in Germany, owned two portraits painted by the German artist Albrecht Duerer. Following the commencement of World War II, the museum’s director, Dr. Walter Scheidig, transferred the paintings to a nearby castle for safekeeping. American troops were stationed at the castle at the time of Germany’s surrender in the spring of 1945. The troops left the castle in the summer of 1945, and the Duerer portraits disappeared at the same time. Elicofon (defendant) bought the portraits in New York from an American ex-serviceman. Following Elicofon’s public disclosure that he possessed the paintings, the museum brought an action for the paintings’ return. Dr. Schedig provided uncontradicted testimony regarding the paintings’ disappearance. The museum moved for summary judgment on the basis that there was no genuine issue of material fact about whether Elicofon had acquired good title. In support of its motion, the museum asserted that Dr. Scheidig’s uncontradicted testimony created an irrefutable inference that the paintings were stolen from the castle in 1945 and that Elicofon lacked good title, because he had acquired the paintings from the thief or from the thief’s transferee. Elicofon moved for summary judgment, claiming that there was a question regarding the facts relied on by the museum to establish theft. In the alternative, Elicofon claimed that the theft did not preclude a finding that the ex-serviceman who sold him the paintings had acquired good title in Germany.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Mishler, J.)

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