Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena

897 F.3d 1141 (2018)

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Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
897 F.3d 1141 (2018)

Facts

In 1931, Jacques Goudstikker, an art dealer in the Netherlands, bought two paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder (the Cranachs) from the Soviet Union. Goudstikker’s firm held title to the Cranachs. In 1940, Goudstikker died while fleeing the Nazis. Nazi official Alois Miedl took possession of Goudstikker’s property, including Goudstikker’s firm and many paintings, in a forced sale. Miedl sold the Cranachs and other paintings to Hermann Göring. In 1946, the Dutch government took possession of the Cranachs and the other paintings. Dutch Royal Decree E100 enabled the owners of Nazi-confiscated property to have their rights restored, but any money received for the property was forfeited to the Dutch government. Under Dutch Royal Decree E133, the Dutch government expropriated all enemy assets within the Netherlands. Goudstikker’s firm, then led by Goudstikker’s widow, chose to have its rights to the property held by Miedl restored, but not its rights to the paintings sold to Göring. The firm sought to retain liquid assets. The Dutch government settled the firm’s Miedl claims in 1952. In the 1960s, George Stroganoff-Sherbatoff (Stroganoff) claimed the Cranachs, asserting that the Soviet Union had stolen them. The Dutch government sold the Cranachs to Stroganoff, who sold them to the Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena (museum) (defendant) in 1971. In the 1990s, the Goudstikkers’ heir, Marei von Saher (plaintiff), petitioned the Dutch Court of Appeals for restoration of her rights to all the paintings sold to Göring. The court denied the petition on grounds that the Goudstikker firm’s earlier decision not to seek restoration of these works was valid. Next, von Saher petitioned the Dutch state secretary for return of the paintings. The secretary ruled that von Saher’s claims were settled in the 1950s but nevertheless returned to her the paintings still in the government’s possession. In 2007, von Saher sued the museum in federal district court, asserting claims to the Cranachs under a California statute extending the time period for reclaiming Nazi-confiscated artworks. After extensive proceedings and multiple appeals to the Ninth Circuit, the trial court granted summary judgment for the museum, applying Dutch law and ruling that the museum had received good title to the paintings from Stroganoff.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (McKeown, J.)

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