Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 06-06-2014
  • Case #: 12-55733
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Nelson for the Court; Circuit Judges Pregerson and Wardlaw
  • Full Text Opinion

The state action doctrine is implicated when a court must decide a matter that is determined by the effect of a foreign sovereign’s original action; if the state action doctrine is implicated it is then relevant to determine if there are any applicable exceptions.

The plaintiff appealed from the district court’s dismissal of her 12(b)(6) motion concerning the plaintiff’s claim that she is the rightful owner of two painted panels, together called “the Cranachs.” The plaintiff claims that the paintings and were forcibly bought from her father by Nazis during World War II. The panel first decided whether the district court had erred in finding the plaintiff’s claims barred by conflict preemption. The panel concluded that they had erred because the remedies that the plaintiff sought, replevin and conversion, were not contrary to federal policy. Pursuant to the federal policy on the restitution of Nazi looted art, the United States stopped accepting claims for external restitution in 1948. Thus the California Civil Procedure code could not be found to conflict with a policy already in effect. However, the panel concluded that they had misinterpreted the federal policy. Additionally, the plaintiff had not previously sought restitution for the paintings because of the issues with the postwar restitution system. However, the panel was aware that the act of state doctrine could be implicated in response to the litigation of this case and that this was an issue for remand. The issue would be to determine whether the Dutch Government’s conveyance of the art to another was an official act of a sovereign therefore triggering the act of state doctrine, noting that this doctrine applies when a case turns on the effect of a foreign sovereign’s official action. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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