Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Proposed New CA Statute of Limitations for Stolen Art Claims

In my Journal of Art Crime column last year, I wrote about the Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum case, in which the Ninth Circuit struck down the California legislature's attempt to extend the statute of limitations on Holocaust-era art claims on the ground that it represented an impermissible infringement of the federal government’s power "to make and resolve war." I noted then that "the implication of the decision seems to be that, if California had extended its statute of limitations for all stolen property claims (or for all claims of stolen artwork in particular), then the claim would have survived."

Now comes news that they're doing just that. Assembly Bill 2765, currently making its way through the California Legislature, would extend the statute of limitations for stolen art claims -- all stolen art claims -- against museums, auctioneers, and galleries. A legislative analysis of the bill is here. I can't find any commentary online, but Simon Frankel and John Freed of Covington & Burling have a piece entitled "Statute Without Limits?" Here's how they summarize the bill:

"AB 2765 would dramatically expand the time in which claims to 'works of fine art' can be brought against museums, auctioneers, and galleries. In its current form, a party who claims to have lost such a work through theft would have six years from actual discovery of the whereabouts of the work to institute a claim. The bill also specifies that 'actual notice' requires knowledge of the identity and whereabouts of the work, and '[f]acts sufficient for the claimant to reasonably believe that he or she has a claim' to the work. So the statutory period would only begin to run when the claimant actually knew all this information, not when he or she could have learned such through reasonable diligence."

And they conclude:

"Ultimately, AB 2765 is a legislative solution in search of a problem. It will likely lead to more costly and drawn out lawsuits over works of art now held in museums, which will subject such taxpayer - and donor - funded institutions to more burdensome litigation."