Can a state law assist heirs of Jews whose fine art was removed from their possession during the Nazi regime in recovering that fine art? The California Code of Civil Procedure 338(c)(3) specifies a six year statute of limitation for the recovery of fine art against a museum, gallery, auctioneer or dealer, when the work is unlawfully taken or stolen, including by fraud or duress. The statute of limitations starts to run when the identity and whereabouts of the fine art is discovered by the claimant. The district court dismissed the heirs’ complaint without leave to amend, ruling that the statute intrudes on the federal government’s foreign affairs powers by creating a remedy for wartime injuries and is therefore unconstitutional.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that §338(c)(3) does not intrude on foreign affairs, that the increased statute of limitations does not, by itself, violate the possessor’s Fourteenth Amendment due process rights and that the statute does not violate the possessor’s First Amendment rights. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings.