US changes the rules for claims of Nazi-looted art against foreign sovereigns and foreign public museums

November 17, 2017 Published Work
International Bar Association: Art, Cultural Institutions and Heritage Law

Recent years have seen a substantial increase in the number of lawsuits filed in the United States against museums over artworks that changed hands during the Nazi period, whether due to alleged Nazi looting or alleged sales under duress due to Nazi persecution. While many of these suits have been brought against US museums, plaintiffs have also brought numerous suits against foreign public museums and nations. At the moment, such suits are pending in the US against public museums in – or under the governments of – Spain, Hungary, Germany and the United Kingdom. [1]

But a recent decision, de Csepel v Republic of Hungary [2], radically reduces plaintiffs' ability to sue foreign sovereigns for art allegedly expropriated by a foreign nation in a foreign nation. Moreover, it raises important questions about when and how plaintiffs can still sue foreign public museums in the US for art allegedly expropriated by a foreign nation in a foreign nation.

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[1] The authors currently represent a foreign sovereign and a foreign public museum in one such suit. This article reflects the authors' personal views, not necessarily the views of any past or current clients.

[2] 859 F.3d 1094 (D.C. Cir. 2017).

This article was first published by the Art, Cultural Institutions and Heritage Law Committee of the Legal Practice Division of the International Bar Association in October 2017 and is reproduced by kind permission of the International Bar Association, London, UK. © International Bar Association.

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