Spain: 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 stolen from his grandmother through a forced sale for a pittance in Germany in 1939. In 1976, it was acquired by the renowned collector Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza when he 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.

Mr. Cassirer, now 89 years old, petitioned for a rehearing en banc, and we post the briefs here. The petition was granted, and oral argument took place in March 2010. On August 12, 2010 a decision from the bench of judges ruled in favor of Mr. Cassirer, on a narrow but essential matter of whether he could or could not sue Spain and the Thyssen Foundation under the FSIA since they had not taken the Pissarro illegally in the first place. Defendants argued that he could not sue, but the Ninth Circuit decision ruled for Mr. Cassirer on this issue and allows the case to continue.