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Kunstsammlungen zu Weimar v. Elicofon

    Brief Fact Summary.

    The Kunstsammlungen museum, Plaintiff, owns two portraits. Once World War II began, the portraits were moved to a secure location in a castle that was guarded by American troops. The moment the troops stopped guarding the castle, the two paintings disappeared. Later, Defendant purchased the two paintings from an American in New York. Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant seeking a return of the paintings. Plaintiff motioned for summary judgement.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    One who steals property or obtains possession of stolen property cannot transfer good title to a good faith purchaser.

    Facts.

    The Kunstsammlungen museum, Plaintiff, is located in Germany. Plaintiff is the owner of two portraits that are painted by the German artist Albrecht Duerer. Once World War II commenced, Dr. Walter Scheidig, the museum’s director, moved the paintings to a castle that is nearby for safekeeping. In the spring of 1945, around the time of Germany’s surrender in the war, American troops were positioned at the castle. In the summer of 1945, the American troops left, and, at the same time, the Duerer portraits disappeared. Elicofon, Defendant, purchased the portraits in New York from an American who was an ex-serviceman. Once Defendant publicly disclosed that he was in possession of the paintings, Plaintiff initiated this action against Defendant seeking a return of the paintings. Dr. Schedig introduced uncontradicted testimony about the paintings’ disappearance. Plaintiff motioned for summary judgement on the grounds there was genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Defendant obtained good title to the paintings. In support of Plaintiff’s motion, Plaintiff asserted that Dr. Scheidig’s uncontradicted testimony substantiated an irrefutable inference that the paintings were stolen from the castle in 1945, thus, Defendant lacked good title to the paintings, as Defendant obtained the paintings from the thief or from the thief’s transferee. Defendant filed a cross motion of summary judgement on the grounds that there was an issue regarding the facts that Plaintiff has relied upon to establish theft. In the alternative, Defendant asserted that the theft did not prevent the court from finding that the ex service man gave Defendant good title to the paintings.

    Issue.

    Whether one may transfer good title to a good faith purchase when he or she steals the property or obtains possession of the stolen property.

    Held.

    No, one may not transfer good title to a good faith purchase when he or she steals the property or obtains possession of the stolen property.

    Discussion.

    One who steals property or obtains possession of stolen property cannot transfer good title to a good faith purchaser. The reasoning behind this rule is that the only manner to divest the true owner title of the property is by operation of law or the true owner’s conduct. In this case, Defendant has not met his burden of establishing that there is no issue of material fact to survive a motion for summary judgement because Dr. Scheidig’s uncontradicted testimony establishes that there is no genuine issue of material fact regarding the theft. Thus, the museum’s motion for summary judgement is therefore granted. Additionally, Defendant’s cross motion for summary judgement is denied. Defendant is required to deliver the paintings to Plaintiff.


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