Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Preemption
  • Date Filed: 12-09-2013
  • Case #: 12-56159
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Pregerson for the Court; Circuit Judges D.W. Nelson and Wardlaw
  • Full Text Opinion

California Code of Civil Procedure § 338(c)(3) does not intrude on foreign affairs and thus is not unconstitutional on field preemption grounds, and§ 338(c)(3) does not violate a museum, gallery, auctioneer, or dealer’s First Amendment rights.

In 1989, Julius Cassirer purchased a particular Camille Pissaro impressionist painting, and upon his death, left the painting to his son Fritz and Fritz’s wife, Lilly. In 1939, as a result of the oppressive Nuremberg Laws, Lilly and Fritz obtained permission to move away from Germany. The Nazis would not allow Lilly and Fritz to take the painting with them, and the Nazis forced Lilly and Fritz to sell it prior to leaving Germany. The painting was later sold to an anonymous party. Lilly unsuccessfully attempted to find it, and then the German courts granted her compensation for the lost work of art. Upon Lilly’s death, Lilly’s sole heir was her grandson Claude. In 1976, renowned art collector Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza bought the painting before his entire collection was later sold to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation (“the Foundation”). In 2000, Claude, living in California, first discovered the whereabouts of the painting. He filed a lawsuit against the Foundation in 2005. Claude later died, and his children, among others, substituted as plaintiffs (collectively, “the Cassirers”). The district court granted the Foundation’s motion to dismiss the Cassirers’ complaint on the grounds that: (1) the foreign affairs doctrine rendered § 338(c)(3) unconstitutional via field preemption; and (2) as a result, the general three-year limitations period for property applied and the suit was untimely. The Ninth Circuit held that California Code of Civil Procedure § 338(c)(3), which provides for a six-year limitation period for recovering fine art from a museum, gallery, auctioneer, or dealer, is silent on matters of foreign affairs and does not intrude on foreign affairs, and thus is not unconstitutional on field preemption grounds. Further, § 338(c)(3) does not violate a museum, gallery, auctioneer, or dealer’s First Amendment rights. AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and REMANDED.

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