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A Tale of Two Jurisdictions

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Dispute over Nazi-Looted Pissarro


Jennifer A. Morris

On January 18, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, a decades-long litigation in which the plaintiff seeks to recover Camille Pissarro’s Rue Saint-Honoré, dans l’après-midi. Effet de pluie (1897). Although the parties agree that the painting changed hands as the result of a forced sale involving Nazi agents in 1939, the case has been dismissed and appealed three times in the U.S. federal court system with lengthy battles over sovereign immunity, jurisdiction, and procedural rules. Seventeen years after the commencement of the suit in 2005, the question before the Supreme Court concerned whether the lower court applied the correct choice-of-law rules in deciding whether the forum state’s law or Spanish law should govern the underlying claims. On April 21, 2022, the Supreme Court ruled that, in a suit raising non-federal claims against a foreign nation or its instrumentality under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a court should determine the substantive law by using the same choice-of-law rule applicable in a similar suit against a private party (in this instance, California law). In issuing this decision, the Court vacated the appellate court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Jennifer A. Morris 1

1 Jennifer A. Morris, J.D., Ph. D., Senior Associate, Cultural Heritage Partners, PLLC, Adjunct Lecturer, William & Mary School of Law.


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