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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 75497 Find in a Library
Title: Recovery of Stolen Arts - Of Paintings, Statues, and Statutes of Limitations
Journal: UCLA Law Review  Volume:27  Issue:4-5  Dated:(April-June 1980)  Pages:1122-1158
Author(s): J G Petrovich
Date Published: 1980
Page Count: 37
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This article discusses avenues of relief from the statute of limitations available to art theft victims and then recommends a more flexible and equitable approach using the discovery rule doctrine.
Abstract: Delays in locating stolen art often prevent the owner from using legal means to recover property because of the statute of limitations. A discussion of the rationales underlying the statute of limitations emphsizes the difficulties that delayed litigation causes for courts and defendants. The concept of accrual which holds that a cause of action in tort will accrue when a wrongful act is committed rather than when it is discovered is described. To avoid the seemingly harsh result of art theft victims losing the right to recover property before they could have effectively exercised it, courts have developed alternative theories of accrual. The demand and refusal requirement, when a defendant refuses to return stolen property, is first explained and illustrated in the Menzel v. List case. Challenges to this interpretation are presented to demonstrate that the demand and refusal requirement fails to look beyond mere legal formalities to the facts, evidence, and behavior of the parties involved. The second doctrine -- adverse possession of personal property -- treats the defendant as owners of the property but postpones accrual depending on the character of the defendant's possession during the limitations period. Shortcomings of this approach often revolve around the legal definition of open and notorious possession and are exemplified in O'Keeffe v. Snyder and United States v. One Stradivarius Kieserwitter Violin. The discovery rule doctrine allows the courts to balance the equities between the plaintiff and the defendant in determining whether the cause of action may be asserted after the limitations period has expired. Factors that should be considered when applying this rule include the availability and quality of witnesses and evidence, the lapse of time since the initial wrongful act, whether the delay in filing suit was intentional, and whether the delay has unusually prejudiced the defendant. Application of this rule to art theft cases would encourage caution and careful investigation in sales of art objects while providing fair treatment to both art theft victims and innocent purchasers. Approximately 140 footnotes are included.
Index Term(s): Art theft; Judicial decisions; Statute of limitations; Stolen property recovery
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