Reif v. Nagy
New York Supreme Court
80 N.Y.S.3d 629 (2018)
In 1938, the Nazis arrested Franz Grunbaum, a Jewish resident of Austria. The Nazis forced Grunbaum and his wife to fill out property-related documents on Grunbaum’s behalf and seized Grunbaum’s art collection. Grunbaum and his wife died in concentration camps. In 1997, the United States Congress passed the Holocaust Victims Redress Act, which called for governments to make good-faith efforts to return the property of Holocaust victims confiscated by Nazis if there was reasonable proof that the claimant was the rightful owner. In 1998, many nations, including the United States, endorsed the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art (principles). The principles directed courts to be mindful that gaps in the provenances of disputed artworks were unavoidable because of the passage of time. In 2016, the United States Congress passed the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act (HEAR). HEAR extended the statute of limitations to facilitate the return of Nazi-looted art to the original owners’ heirs. HEAR provided that a claim could be brought up to six years from the date on which the artwork’s identity and location and the claimant’s interest in the artwork were discovered, notwithstanding any defense at law related to the passage of time. In 2015, Grunbaum’s heirs and the executors of one of the heir’s estates (collectively, heirs) (plaintiffs) discovered that Richard Nagy and Richard Nagy Ltd. (collectively, Nagy) (defendants) had possession of two paintings known to have belonged to Grunbaum and demanded the paintings’ return. The demand was refused, and the heirs asserted replevin and conversion claims against Nagy in New York state court. The heirs filed a motion for summary judgment. Nagy claimed to have acquired title to the paintings because they had been sold to a gallery by Mathilde Lukacs, Grunbaum’s sister-in-law. Nagy did not provide any evidence showing that Grunbaum voluntarily transferred the works to Lukacs or that Lukacs had title to the paintings. Nagy also raised defenses of laches and the statute of limitations.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Ramos, J.)
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