May 17, 2014

DeWeerth v. Baldinger | Case Brief - 386 F.2d 103 (1987) - US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit

FACTS: The stolen property is a painting by Monet.  Deweerth inherited the painting from her father and in 1943 sent it to the home of her sister during WWII.  At the end of the war American soldiers were stationed in her sister's residence and shortly after they left, the sister noticed the Monet was missing.  Deweerth contacted several military officials but nothing happened.  In 1948 she contacted her lawyer about possible insurance claims but that was a dead-end.  In 1955 Deweerth contacted  Dr. Strange to investigate the whereabouts of the painting but he didn't do anything.  Then in 1957 she contacted the Bundeskriminalamt.

In 1956 the painting reappeared on the art market and was sold to Edith Marks Baldinger.  Baldinger displayed the painting at a few art exhibits but usually kept it herself.  Deweerth learned that Baldinger had the painting through her nephew who had heard about it and was able to trace the purchase through an art catalogue.

HISTORY: NY law starts the statute of limitations running when one innocently buys stolen property at the time the owner demands return of the property.

ISSUE: Whether NY law imposes upon a Person who claims ownership of stolen personal property an obligation to use diligence in attempting to locate the property?

HOLDING: Yes

RATIONALE: We believe the NY courts would impose a duty of reasonable diligence in attempting to locate stolen property.  Because valuable artwork cannot be converted (it would lose its value) the owner has a better chance of relocating it than most other forms of stolen property.

A due diligence rule will help protect the innocent purchaser (544)

Deweerth's investigation was minimal.

To require a good-faith purchaser who has owned a painting for 30 years to defend under these circumstances would be unjust.