Art Law

Family's battle over Nazi-seized painting kept alive by 9th Circuit ruling

A Jewish family prevailed before the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Court of Appeals in its long-running quest to regain possession of a $20 million work of art seized by the Nazis during World War II.

According to the Associated Press on Monday, a unanimous three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit ruled (PDF) in favor of David and Ava Cassirer, descendants of a prominent German businessman whose son was forced to give up possession of the painting by French impressionist artist Camille Pissarro, Rue Saint-Honoré, a près-midi, effet de pluie, in 1939 as a condition for leaving Nazi Germany. Renowned art collector Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza purchased the painting in 1976, and the work is currently owned by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, which has displayed the painting in a museum in Spain.

The panel held that U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feess of Los Angeles erred when he dismissed the case in 2012. Feess had ruled that a California law extending the statute of limitations for cases seeking recovery of long-lost artwork was an unconstitutional infringement of the federal government’s exclusive right to conduct foreign affairs. The panel, instead, stated that the state law was constitutional and was not pre-empted by federal law. While Feess had maintained that states could not create their own remedies to address looted Holocaust-era art, the panel held that the California law in question merely addressed a procedural issue.

The Foundation’s lawyer, Thaddeus Stauber of Nixon Peabody, told the AP that he is considering asking for en banc review to reconsider the ruling. “The foundation continues to maintain its rightful ownership of the painting,” Stauber said.

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