Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation v. Lubell Solomon R. Guggenheim Found. v. Lubell,
153 A.D.2d 143 (N.Y. App. Div. 1990), aff’d, 77 N.Y. 2d 311 (1991).Print this Page
Case SummaryCase Details / ImagePrécis
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, which operates the Guggenheim Museum (together referred to herein as “the Museum”), filed suit to recover a gouache study by Marc Chagall stolen from the Museum and purchased by a
good faith purchaser One who buys something for value without notice of another's claim to the property and without actual or constructive notice of any defects in or infirmities, claims, or equities against the seller's title; one who has in good faith paid valuable consideration for property without notice of prior adverse claims (Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004)).
good faith purchaser, Lubell. The purchaser’s ignorance of the work’s
provenance The history of the ownership of an object or work of art; sometimes also used to describe the place of origin, or the find-spot, of an archaeological object or other antiquity (more correctly, “provenience”).
provenance was in part due to the museum’s decision not to report the theft. On this motion for
summary judgment A judgment granted on a claim or defense about which there is no genuine issue of material fact and upon which the movant is entitled to prevail as a matter of law. The court considers the contents of the pleadings, the motions, and additional evidence adduced by the parties to determine whether there is a genuine issue of material fact rather than one of law. This procedural device allows the speedy disposition of a controversy without the need for trial (Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004)).
summary judgment, the New York appellate court clarified the State’s demand and refusal rule, which governs the
statute of limitations 1) A law that bars claims after a specified period; specifically, a statute establishing a time limit for suing in a civil case, based on the date when the claim accrued (as when the injury occurred or was discovered). The purpose of such a statute is to require diligent prosecution of known claims, thereby providing finality and predictability in legal affairs and ensuring that claims will be resolved while evidence is reasonably available and fresh. 2) A statute establishing a time limit for prosecuting a crime, based on the date when the offense occurred (Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004)).
statute of limitations. The court stipulated that the theft victim’s
due diligence The diligence reasonably expected from, and ordinarily exercised by, a person who seeks to satisfy a legal requirement or to discharge an obligation. In relation to the acquisition of art, it refers to a prospective buyer’s investigation and analysis of the object.
due diligence is not a factor in determining when the statute of limitations begins to run, but may be used by a good faith purchaser to establish the defense of
laches Unreasonable delay in pursuing a right or claim, almost always an equitable one, in a way that prejudices the party against whom relief is sought (Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004)).
Exactly when the Museum discovered that the gouache was stolen is unclear. The Museum claimed that it was not certain of the loss until a 1969-1970 inventory, while Mrs. Lubell argued that the Museum knew the work was missing as early as 1965. It was undisputed that the Museum deliberately chose not to publicize the loss, report it to the authorities, or notify the artist. The Museum formally deaccessioned the Chagall in 1974.
The painting was purchased by the Mr. and Mrs. Jules Lubell in 1967 from a reputable New York gallery. Although the Lubells did not research the painting's provenance at that time, they did contact both the artist and his son-in-law—who had catalogued Chagall's works—to ensure that the piece was genuine. (See 153 A.D.2d at 144.) During the time the Lubells owned the work they exhibited it publicly twice.
In 1985, a private dealer took a transparency of the Chagall to an auction house to have the work evaluated for sale. By chance, one of the auction house's employees had previously been a curator at the Guggenheim. He identified the work as the stolen Chagall and notified the Museum. After determining the identity of the current owner, the Guggenheim contacted Mrs. Lubell, as Mr. Lubell was by then deceased, and asked her to return it. When she refused, the Museum filed suit.
In 1989, the trial court granted Mrs. Lubell's motion for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds, concluding that the Guggenheim had not been "reasonably diligent" in its efforts to locate the gouache because it had not notified the artist, who was still alive, or any agencies that traditionally handle stolen art claims. On appeal to the Appellate Division, the order for summary judgment was overturned. The higher court determined that the question of whether the Museum should have done more to locate the work was an question of fact relevant to the defense of laches, not the statute of limitations.
New York Court of Appeals The highest court in the New York state court system.
New York Court of Appeals affirmed the appellate court’s decision, stating in particular that it did not want to modify New York's demand and refusal rule, which specifies that the statute of limitations begins to run only after a work is located, its previous owner demands its return, and the current owner refuses. Following this decision, the parties reached a confidential out-of-court
settlement An agreement ending a lawsuit or other dispute.