Cassirer Argument: Ownership of Nazi-looted art to be determined by choice-of-law

King & Spalding

A painting by Camille Pissarro hangs in a Spanish museum that the Nazis stole from a Jewish family in 1939. For fifteen years the parties have litigated who the rightful owner is: the museum or the family. The case may well turn entirely on whether California or Spanish law governs. It’s not uncommon for the outcome of a case to be affected by the question of which jurisdiction’s law controls. But the Supreme Court faces a question one step removed: Which rules do you apply to decide whose law controls? State choice-of-law rules or federal choice-of-law rules?

No, this is not a devious hypothetical invented by your civil procedure professor for your final exam. The Supreme Court heard argument on the question earlier this week in Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation. And the painting’s fate hangs in the balance. The Court’s decision could affect choice-of-law procedures in a wide array of cases, particularly when a state-law claim is brought in federal court under a federal-question jurisdictional vehicle.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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