Claude Cassirer v. Kingdom of Spain, et al.

In 2000, Claude Cassirer, the grandson of Lilly Cassirer Neubauer, learned that a painting from his family’s collection was hanging in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation in Madrid. The painting, “Rue Saint-Honoré, Afternoon, Rain Effect” by Camille Pissarro, was resided primarily in Lugano, Switzerland. In 1988, the Baron (who had since married a Spanish woman) lent his art collection of some 775 paintings including this Pissarro to the Spanish government for a period of nine and a half years, in exchange for $50 million. Five years later, following the Baron’s death in 1992, Spain purchased the entire collection for approximately $327 million, having already allocated and renovated the Villahermosa Palace near the Prado to serve as a museum to house it. The museum is operated by a Foundation that by law includes several government officials on its board.

In 2001, the Commission for Art Recovery approached the Foundation and petitioned the Ministry of Culture of Spain to recover Cassirer’s family heirloom. The effort was unsuccessful in spite of Spain’s having agreed to the Washington Principles.

Cassirer brought suit against Spain and the Foundation in the United States District Court for the Central District of California in 2005 claiming that the painting had been taken in violation of international law from his grandmother. In 2006, the defendants filed motions for dismissal of the action on grounds of lack of jurisdiction which were denied because of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’s “expropriation exception” to sovereign immunity applied in this case. Spain and the Foundation appealed to the United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit. On August 12, 2010 the Court ruled that Cassirer could sue Spain and the Thyssen Foundation under the FSIA even though the defendants had not been the ones who had taken the Pissarro illegally.

Claude Cassirer died on September 25 at the age of 89.

The defendants moved to dismiss the action based on the California statute of limitations. Cassirer alleged that their claim was timely pursuant to Cal. Code. Civ. Proc. §338(c) which extended the statute of limitations for all stolen art claims to six years from the time of “actual” discovery of the location of the stolen artwork and the information about the theft needed by the victim to make the claim. However, the Court concluded that Cal. Code. Civ. Proc. §338(c) was an unconstitutional infringement on the federal government’s exclusive power to conduct foreign affairs as described in Von Saher and the motion to dismiss was granted.

Rue Saint-Honoré, Afternoon, Rain Effect

Camille Pissarro, Rue Saint-Honoré, Afternoon, Rain Effect

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