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Supreme Court Nonplussed by Claimant Endeavor to Recover Art in Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art

Yesterday, on June 27, 2011, the United States Supreme Court denied Marei von Saher’s, heir of the famous art dealer, Jacques Goudstikker (1897-1940), petition to review the U.S. Court of Appeals of the 9th Circuit decision invalidating California statute extending time period for Holocaust victims to bring claims for return of Nazi-era looted art.  Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art, 578 F.3d 1016 (9th Cir. 2009). For details of the Von Saher claim, visit Commission for Art Recovery.

According to Herrick, Feinstein, LLP, firm representing the claimant, Von Saher “immediately moved to have the Court of Appeals reconsider its prior decision in light of an inconsistent ruling by that court in another case.” More details are likely to follow.  In the mean time, however, the decision by the Supreme Court to decline review of Von Saher v. Norton Simon, does not bode well for a certiorari petition submitted on behalf of Grosz heirs in Grosz v. MoMA, a New York case. Ray Dowd, attorney for the Grosz heirs is seeking review from the court of the last resort highlighting the “urgent national need for [the Supreme Court] to exercise its supervisory powers” to protect true owners of stolen property. Amicus brief urges the Supreme Court review of Grosz to hear the case and provide  guidance to stop “fundamental constitutional errors” that have recurred in cases seeking restitution of Nazi-era looted property.

The petition for a writ of certiorari for Grosz v. MoMA includes the following language, referencing Republic of Austria v. Altmann, 541 U.S. 677 (2004).

This Court has previously instructed that in a case involving possession and concealment of Nazi-looted art against an Austrian museum, all well-pleaded allegations are to be deemed true on a motion to dismiss. The Second Circuit, by affirming the district court’s consideration of settlement communications to work a forfeiture against the claimants, has created the problematic appearance that U.S. museums will not be subjected to the same standard as foreign museums.

Are the U.S. museums becoming heavens for stolen art (Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena, Toledo Museum, Boston Museum of Art, MoMA)? They seem to be held to a different standard than foreign museums (Belvedere Palace in Vienna, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation in Madrid).

Grosz request is urgent and suggestive but whether the Supreme Court finds it (more) worthy is another question all together.