April 21, 2024


Equality opinion

Case Review: Cassirer et. al. v. Thyssen Bornemisza Collection Foundation (2022)

Case Review: Cassirer et. al. v. Thyssen Bornemisza Collection Foundation (2022)

by Anissa Patel


Because 1993, Rue Saint-Honoré, après-midi, effet de pluie, an oil portray by the French impressionist grasp Camille Pissarro has been hanging at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Selection Foundation’s Museum (the “Museum”) found in Spain. The portray was initially acquired in 1898 by Julius Cassirer, a member of a wealthy Jewish family members as soon as living in Germany. Considering that the original obtain by Cassirer, the Rue Saint-Honoré has been in possession by a range of different proprietors and establishments. For over 40 a long time, the painting remained in the Cassirer relatives until Lilly Cassirer, the widow of Julies Cassirer’s son Fritz was pressured to market the portray to the Nazis in 1939.

As persecution of Jews dwelling in Nazi Germany increased, Lilly and her husband experienced to request permission by German authority to get their belongings when fleeing the place, which integrated the portray. Although right before granting permission, the Nazi authorities enlisted the assitance of an art dealer named Jakob Scheidwimmer to appraise the painting. Immediately after appraisal, Scheidwimmer refused to make it possible for Lilly to acquire the painting out of the place and demanded that she offer it to him for $360. Out of anxiety of becoming unable to depart Germany, Lilly complied. She hardly ever been given the resources that had been promised.

The painting was inevitably smuggled into the U.S. right after the war and subsequently sold by a Beverly Hills gallery in 1951. From there, the painting was procured by Baron Hans Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza, a Swiss art collector and the heir to a German steel empire. In 1993, Thyssen-Bornemisza sold his assortment of additional than 775 paintings for $340 million to Spain. The paintings have been to be exhibited at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Assortment Foundation’s Museum, a then newly developed museum in Madrid.

On her demise, Lilly Cassirer remaining the rights of the portray to her grandson Claude Cassirer. Claude Cassirer experienced been searching for the portray “that [once] hung on the wall of his grandmother Lilly’s apartment in Berlin” for decades. In 2000, Cassirer received a cellular phone phone from an acquaintance that the painting that he and his wife experienced been browsing for had ultimately been observed hanging in a Spanish museum. He then petitioned  Spain’s Minister for Education, Society and Sports (who was also the chair of the Foundation’s Board), requesting the return of the painting. His request was denied. In 2005, he then filed a accommodate in a federal court in Los Angeles to recover the painting, now valued at $30 million. The lawsuit initially submitted by Cassirer in 2005 has managed to span virtually 20 several years, locating its way to the highest courtroom in the United States. On January 18, 2022 the Supreme Courtroom listened to a very last-probability charm from the Cassirer household to have the portray returned to them from Spain.

Court docket Ruling

On April 22nd, 2022, in a unanimous ruling on procedural difficulties, the Supreme Court docket ruled in favor of the heirs of Cassirer. The closing impression from Supreme Court docket Justice Elena Kegan said that “a court must decide the substantive regulation by applying the exact same choice-of-law rule relevant in a identical fit in opposition to a personal occasion.” This choice establishes that in an ownership dispute between two individual countries, the relevant option-of-regulation rule that the court ought to utilize is not the one in which the defendant was a international-point out actor, but rather a non-public occasion.

Finally, the problem at the heart of this case was one of ownership, and no matter if Claude Cassirer was the rightful owner of the painting that at the time belonged to his grandmother, Lilly Cassier. On the other hand, the several transfers of the painting above the span of many years intricate the situation. The primary challenge reviewed by the Supreme Court was whether or not the reduced federal courts applied the appropriate regulation when they determined the case initially. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Assortment Basis claimed that the federal district court docket was proper to utilize the Spanish doctrine of “acquisition prescription”, which transfers possession following 6 yrs of passion if the possessor did not basically know the house was stolen. On the other hand, the heirs of the painting argued that in the similar fashion that if the government museum “were a personal museum”, California’s alternative of regulation regulations would use, which would result in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Selection Basis being liable in the same way as a personal museum.

Claude Cassirer experienced initially submitted the motion in federal district court towards the Kingdom of Spain and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Assortment Foundation to get better the Pissarro once owned by his grandmother. In the authentic courtroom doc, Cassirer alleged that the portray was taken from his grandmother in violation of global legislation in 1939 by an agent of the governing administration of Nazi Germany. However, the district court motioned to dismiss the criticism simply because it determined that the scenario was out of its personal jurisdiction, there was deficiency of standing, and since there was an concern of jurisdiction primarily based on sovereign immunity.

In 2009, the United States Courtroom of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed an appeal by Cassirer relating to troubles to personal jurisdiction, standing, and the existence of a justiciable case or controversy. In addition, the Court stated that it lacked appellate jurisdiction simply because there had been no remaining judgment, and for the reason that the concerns at hand were being not “immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine.” Even so, the appellate court docket did point out that beneath the collateral buy doctrine, it had the jurisdiction to take into account the problem of sovereign immunity. The court docket held that the expropriation exception of the Overseas Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”) does in fact implement when the foreign condition is not the entity that expropriated the house in violation of global law. In sum, while the attractiveness was dismissed with regards to the troubles of own jurisdiction, standing, and Post III case or controversy, the enchantment agreed with the district courtroom that the Basis engaged in “sufficient” business activity in the “U.S.”. In essence, the museum was not shielded below the FSIA for the reason that the law has an “expropriation exception” for house confiscated in violation of global regulation.

U.S. District Decide John Walter applied Spanish legislation and verified in the 2019 demo that when the Thyssen-Bornemisza Assortment Basis “may have been irresponsible” in failing to look into the record of the portray, the museum lacked “actual knowledge” that the perform was stolen. The Supreme Court docket reviewed the heirs’ challenge of the trial court’s use of federal frequent law in its place of picking out Spanish legislation for the case. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Selection Basis was inquiring the Supreme Court to decide on the substantive “federal typical law” in which a overseas condition is sued. Throughout trial, David Boies, the heirs’ attorney said that for the reason that Thyssen-Bornemisza Assortment Foundation is not immune, the text of the FSIA can make it “liable to the same fashion and to the similar extent as a personal specific under comparable situation.” In addition, the justices “repeatedly questioned the Thyssen-Bornemisza Assortment Foundation’s position”. Justice Clarence Thomas said, “I really do not pretty fully grasp how a sovereign can be addressed the very same as a private unique if you never use the similar choice of regulation principles.”


The Supreme Court’s selection that California preference of legislation rule applies paves the way for Cassirer’s heirs to inquire the California appeals court docket to undo the decreased court’s selection to observe Spanish legislation and implement California regulation instead—under which a thief are unable to express great title. Utilized to this case, this implies that the Nazi, who experienced acquired the portray by theft or power, could not express very good title to any other particular person. Adhering to this logic, Cassirer’s heirs would be the legal entrepreneurs of the painting.

The choice by the Supreme Court in favor of the heirs of Cassier will without doubt have wide implications for the art planet, particularly for upcoming steps that involve possession promises among people today and foreign governments.


Anissa Patel was a Spring 2022 Lawful Intern at the Middle for Art Law. She just just lately received her J.D. degree from Tulane Regulation College in New Orleans.