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O’Keefe v. Synder

Law Dictionary
CASE BRIEFS

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Bloomberg Law

Citation. 22 Ill.83 N.J. 478, 416 A.2d 862 (1980)

Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff seeks replevin of paintings thirty years after their alleged theft.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. In an action for replevin, the plaintiff’s cause of action accrues only after the cause of action is discovered by due diligence in the pursuit of the wrongfully detained property.


Facts. In 1946 Plaintiff O’Keefe, an artist, had three paintings stolen from an art gallery owned by her husband. Plaintiff did not report the paintings as stolen to the police, but did tell friends and eventually, in 1972, placed the paintings on the Art Dealers Association of America’s listing of lost/s stolen paintings. In 1976, Plaintiff discovered that a man named Ulrich Frank had sold the paintings to Defendant Synder, d/b/a Princeton Gallery of Fine Art, for $35,000. Frank traces his possession of the paintings to his father, Dr. Frank, and stated that, contrary to Plaintiff O’Keefe’s version of the facts, the paintings were on display in Dr. Frank’s apartment as early as 1941. In 1965, Dr. Frank and wife formally gave the paintings to Ulrich Frank. Frank claims continuous possession, through his father, for thirty years and admits selling the paintings to Defendant Synder. The possession is not, however, traced back to the artist, Plaintiff. Plaintiff sued Defendant Synder fo
r replevin of the paintings. Synder interplead Ulrich Frank as a third party Defendant. Defendant Synder moved for summary judgment in the trial court on the grounds that the paintings had been stolen, but that the paintings had been adversely possessed by the Franks such that title to the paintings had vested with Frank. Plaintiff O’Keefe argued that the statute of limitations for replevin (six years) had not run. The trial court granted the summary judgment motion in favor of Defendant. The intermediate appellate court reversed the trial court and found for Plaintiff, stating that the defenses of expiration of statute of limitations and title by adverse possession were identical, and that the Defendant had not proven the elements of his affirmative defense. The Defendant appealed.

Issue. May Plaintiff maintain this action for replevin even though thirty years has passed since the paintings were in her possession?

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