Faculty of Law and Jurisprudence, State University of New York at Buffalo
Buffalo Law Review vol:59 issue:3 pages:621-691
Considering Manhattan’s status as the leading center of international art trade, courts in New York are an unsurprising prominent venue for resolving disputes regarding Holocaust related art losses. However, like all art litigation, these disputes have interesting features that render the administration of justice in this field a challenging task. Most notably, the enduring nature of artwork plays a central role in legal theaters, which all too often turn on the question of whether the original owner’s restitution claim was timely brought.
Therefore, this Article will describe New York’s two-step approach for the assessment of the timeliness of replevin and conversion actions involving stolen cultural property. According to Guggenheim v. Lubell, New York law requires the courts first to apply a “demand and refusal” rule in order to determine the time of accrual for limitation purposes, and, subsequently, to examine the original owner’s diligence in tracing his property under the doctrine of laches.
The article’s primary purpose, however, is to call attention to the court’s increasing receptiveness to the limitation and laches defenses in stolen art litigation in general, and Holocaust-related title disputes in particular. Based on a comprehensive survey of all publicly available case law of the past fifteen years on the recovery of stolen art in the New York forum, this Article demonstrates a shift: existing rules are being interpreted to provide significantly more protection for a good faith purchaser, as opposed to New York’s traditional policy of favoring the original owner.