The Ninth Circuit has held that a California museum may retain possession of two Renaissance masterworks that had been taken by the Nazis from their owner by a forced sale during World War II. After the war, the works were returned to the Netherlands, which had set up a system for claims to be made for Nazi-looted property. On the advice of counsel, the heirs of the original owner of the works did not make a claim. The Netherlands sold the paintings to an individual who later sold them to the museum. The Ninth Circuit held that the sale by the Netherlands was a sovereign act and, accordingly, any attempt to recoup the works of art were barred by the act-of-state doctrine.
Sanford Hausler is of counsel with Cox Padmore Skolnik & Shakarchy LLP in New York, New York.