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O’Keeffe v. Snyder

Citation. 416 A.2d 862 (N.J. 1980)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Snyder appealed a judgment of the appellate court that allowed O’Keeffe, the artist of three paintings, to assert her right to the paintings after the six-year statute of limitations had passed.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The discovery rule tolls the statute of limitations if the owner used due diligence to regain possession of stolen property.


O’Keeffe sought court action seeking the return of her three paintings. Snyder claimed that she purchased the painting through a third party, that she had a right to the paintings through adverse possession, and the six-year statute of limitations to claim the paintings had passed. The trial court granted judgment in favor of Snyder and the appellate court reversed.


Whether the discovery rule toll the statute of limitations if the owner used due diligence to regain possession of stolen property?


Yes. The case is remanded to the trial court. The statute of limitations began to run when O’Keeffe knew or should have known Snyder’s true identity. It is up to the trial court to consider whether (1) O’Keeffe used due diligence to recover the painting, (2) there was an effective method for O’Keeffe to notify the community of the theft, and (3) whether registering the painting would have put the purchaser on notice of who the true owner of the paintings is.


(Handler, J.) The statute of limitations is not an issue because Snyder’s purchase of the painting and refusal to return them occurred within six years of O’Keeffe seeking a course of action.

(Sullivan, J.) O’Keeffe is entitled to judgment because the statute of limitations was tolled until O’Keeffe sued.


The discovery rule allows an action to accrue only after the injured party discovers the facts that form the cause of action. The statute of limitations therefore only begins to run when the owner known or should have known of the true identity of the adverse possessor.

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