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Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
754 F.3d 712 (2014)
For over 500 years, two paintings created by Lucas Cranach the Elder (the paintings) were displayed in churches and art museums in Ukraine. In 1931 Soviet authorities sold the paintings at an auction as part of a collection of artworks previously owned by the Stroganoff family. The paintings were purchased by Jacques Goudstikker, a Jewish art collector living in the Netherlands. In 1940 the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Goudstikker fled, leaving his possessions, including the paintings, behind. A high-level Nazi official took possession of the paintings, purportedly purchasing them from the Goudstikker family through illegal contracts. After World War II, the Netherlands developed a process for the restitution of Nazi-looted art. However, Goudstikker’s family decided to not go through the process to recover the paintings. In 1966 the Netherlands sold the paintings to George Stroganoff Scherbatoff, a descendant of the Stroganoff family, who claimed that the Soviet government had stolen the paintings from his family. Eventually, the paintings were acquired by the Norton Simon Museum of Art (the museum) (defendant). In 2000 Marei Von Saher (plaintiff), Goudstikker’s descendant, learned about the paintings and asked the museum for their return. The museum refused. Von Saher filed a lawsuit against the museum in federal district court, claiming ownership of the paintings under California law. The museum moved to dismiss the case, arguing that Von Saher’s state-law claims conflicted with United States federal policy and were barred by conflict preemption. The district court ruled in favor of the museum, holding that the United States’ policy was to respect the restitution process in foreign countries and that this policy conflicted with Von Saher’s state-law claims. Von Saher appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Nelson, J.)
Dissent (Wardlaw, J.)
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